Review by Janine Veazue
Every region in the country seems to have its own precious and fleeting rockabilly scene these days, and Cleveland, the home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is no exception. According to Cleveland’s RAB Internet resource, RockabillyUprising.com, along with the Red Star Rangers and the Rocket 88’s, the Lords of the Highway have been picked as one of few favorites that Ohio has to call their own. Slim pickin’s, I’d say.
Listed and described as ‘hi-octane psychobilly,’ the Lords of the Highway present themselves on their newest release, Lost in Sin (Rock-n-Roll Purgatory Records), as a marketing nightmare gone awry. True, trio acts do often have a huge responsibility to create a larger-than-life sound to compensate for their small size, but for the Lords, it requires more than snarling and repeating mediocre choruses.
Dennis Bell, lead guitar and vocals, seems to get the rhythm and tune down with his instrumental talents, yet forgets it takes more than just a pompadour hairdo to create a true aural rockabilly experience. ‘Sugar,’ the band’s female stand-up bass performer, would be able to accumulate more power with her female guiles if she weren’t simply given the role of the local yokel when it’s her turn at the mic. It is a difficult job to wield such a large instrument while performing, and credit is due to her for taking on such a task, yet the time has to come when she is more than just a token female playing a bass, and works for her respect as a musician.
The Lords of the Highway may in fact just be playing to mock the genre of rockabilly and have fun with the music. They surely work well with the hillbilly presentation of being raw musical sinners. If that’s the case, then I wish them years of musical bliss. However, if they are truly aiming to compete with today’s resurgence of both national and international rockabilly and psychobilly musicians, they may consider some polishing of their teamwork cohesion.
The one gem that saves Lords of the Highway from total judgment is their last track, where instead of being another frail attempt at team playing, opens up a whole new and wonderful avenue of creativity and originality. Track 13 takes the form of an old-time radio show, starring Truckman, religious cult leader and zombie-killer extraordinaire. In between some of the funniest fabricated radio commercials I have ever heard, Truckman’s adventures send him to situations where he weds and beds the zombie queen, who gives birth to their half human, half zombie son. The climax of the story takes place in a supermarket, where father and son must battle face-to-face for the fate of the world. This is something that shouldn’t be missed, even if this is the sole reason you pick up Lost in Sin. I guarantee that this radio gem is something you will never hear at any festival or Cleveland rockabilly show. Good job on that one, Lords.