Frank Brownstone and Associates get my vote as the Twin Cities’ purest rock ‘n’ roll band, ‘cause that’s what they play—not rock, not rock ‘n’ roll with blues mixed in, but the good, old-fashioned stuff that originators like Carl Perkins, Gene Cochran, and the Everly Brothers used to do. And they do it very well.
You’ll find vintage-type fare on their albums First Annual Report to Investors and Better Days. And I have a confession to make: they literally get under my skin, to the extent that I find myself, when I listen to them, doing something very much like the arrhythmic, loose-limbed flouncing about that Michael Keaton did, boogying his butt off in Beetlejuice. Since it’s most uncool for a black man to dance like that, I make sure even my cats ain’t looking when “Don’t Mention Love” is on the box. Then, I cut loose with absolute abandon, shoulder-shrugging and herky-jerking like somebody’s scarecrow sprung to life (don’t tell anyone or I’ll get drummed out of the soul folk union and have to give back my secret decoder ring). “Bit by a Dog,” in a nutshell, is nasty, streamlined lightning caught in a bottle.
These wizards of the artform have something new out, called Cool Ranch; they rolled it out for their March show at the Fine Line Music Café (you can catch their upcoming agenda at their remarkably handsome Web site). But from this end, getting a handle on Cool Ranch gives new, improved meaning to chasing one’s tail. Media rep and bass player Tony Mendoza, who must’ve gone to the Frank Zappa school of sandbagging the press wouldn’t play it straight with a gun to his head. For example, question: What prompted the new product? Answer: The company had to diversify its portfolio.
And here’s an excerpt from the Cool Ranch media release. “’We’re not a bunch of Wall Street corporate slicks like those crooks runnin’ the show before,’ said new Brownstone singer and rhythm guitar player Billy Brownstone. ‘We’ve shut down that high falutin’ skyscraper office in downtown Minneapolis. Now, we’re gonna run this company like a real family-owned bidness—we’re gonna run it out of our ranch in North Branch, Minnesota.’ ‘Yessiree,’ chimed in Buck Brownstone, FB&A’s ranch director. ‘We’re about as down home as down home gets. Our repertoire’s gonna feature a savory blend of your favorite ol’ twangy Frank Brownstone originals, along with classic country favorites like Waylon and Willie, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, and more. Hell, why we’re even gonna play some truckin’ music by Jerry Reed.'” Fine, except there is no Billy or Buck Brownstone. The other members of the band are Garth Morrisette (vocals, guitar), Steve Hurinenko (drums), Dan Lipschultz (keys), and Carlos “Big Man” Mendoza (sax).
You can’t get Cool Ranch at your neighborhood record store. You have to go to frankbrownstone.com, where you can download it absolutely free of charge. When you get there, you’ll be glad you went. They’ve got live versions of “Don’t Mention Love,” the you-know-what-kickin’, rodeo-ready “Paradise,” the pass-me-a-brew roof-raiser “Better Days,” and the fine, upbeat bluegrass ballad “Going Out West.” As a bonus, there’s a headshot of their favorite groupie. Goes by the name of “Bossie.”
One thing’s unmistakable: these boys came to play, and to have big fun. It’s hard not to have some yourself, when Frank Brownstone and Associates are in effect.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.
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