Gal-fronted honky-tonk/rockabilly retro squadrons are the rage these days, but you should never whisper a word about your Miss Leslies, Miss Lauren Maries, Delilah Dewylds, or Gal Holidays until you’ve checked out the buckin’ bronco sounds of Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers. The band’s second full-length platter, Miles From Home, picks up where 2006’s North of Bakersfield left off — another high-octane blaze through 50s honky-tonk, western swing, rockabilly, Americana, and alt-country. This time Ruby Dee’s vocals are more prominent in the mix, consequently allowing story lines and yelps, yips, growls, and country-affected inflections to be better savored than ever. A loose theme of love permeates the proceedings with “Round and Round,” a regretful tale of love slipping away, being the centerfold piece. Several other songs (“Don’t Need a Man,” “Since You Went Away”) neatly dovetail into this theme in its many splintered, twisted variations that make for as good an excuse as any to fall off the barstool.
The other factor that contributes to the sonic drama is the infinite number of textures supplied by guitarist Jorge Harada. Whether it’s power-twanged chords, dust-flying licks, or pulsating rockabilly shuffles (“Childish Memories”), Harada’s nothing less than a one-man guitar- riff factory. Even with all these jaw- dropping solos, he still manages to reach his zenith on “Gunslinger,” an amped-up, electrified instrumental that intersects an updated 60s spaghetti western with the likes of Pete Anderson and the Hacienda Brothers. Harada’s consistently amazing, but since he never dwarfs partner Ruby Dee, he’ll likely stay on the payroll. Multi-instrumentalist Bob Knetzger always seems to apply the right finishing touch on pedal steel, mandolin, and Dobro (check out the majestic arrangement on “Comes a Time”). Snakehandlers? Yeah, maybe, but from the sounds of it, they’re really rulers of the honky-tonks, pizza joints, trailer courts, truck stops, pro-wrestling bouts, bowling alleys, and everything else that makes America great.
— Dan Willging (Denver, CO)
RUBY DEE AND THE SNAKEHANDLERS Miles From Home
Dionysus 1233139 (2008)