It would seem both obvious and insufficient to say that history is important to the Loot Rock Gang. The quartet plays post-war jump-blues and sings often about post-war concerns, alongside more evergreen topics like love, money and the intersection of the two. That the group is named after Jesse James' cavern hideout won't be lost on any Missourian who has trekked to Meramec Caverns (postcard ephemera of which is nicely included in the CD artwork), and opening track "Loot Rock Boogie" plays with that mythology while introducing the outfit to the world. There's history, too, in the band's origins, though of a more recent vintage: Band leader and guitarist Mat Wilson established his unmistakable style with the Rum Drum Ramblers, a trio regularly sidelined as his bandmates tour the world with Pokey LaFarge. Wilson's wife and singing partner, Rachel Fenton, performed for years as Little Rachel, plying twangy R&B in her native Kansas City before moving to St. Louis. It's clear from That's Why I've Got to Sing that Loot Rock Gang is no consolation prize or holding pattern, and alongside low end from both Kellie Everett's baritone sax and Stephen Inman's upright bass, Wilson and Fenton's paired voices mix well while each retaining their signature characteristics.
It's not especially surprising that Pokey LaFarge booked the Loot Rock Gang for his Central Time traveling revue, and not just because he snagged Wilson's bandmates: There's a lovingly anachronistic streak to the album that LaFarge's growing fanbase will no doubt recognize on the package tour. But beyond their roots in decades-old musical styles, Wilson's best songs tend to involve musical transportation to faraway lands. He sounds like a wistful sailor dreaming of shore leave on the gentle, swaying "Full Moon Cataluña" as he and Fenton sing of Spanish terrain. Closing track "Trinidad" is more striking, with Wilson's guitar patterns punching through a sometimes muddy mix with plucky clarity. The song features his most atypical harmonies and most expansive vocals — you can hear what Wilson is capable of when he gives himself (and the band) space to move outside of the confines of its usual rhythms, and his storytelling matches suit. An offhand reference to Omaha Beach grounds the track in the summer of '44 (much like "My Gal Friday," an ode to his grandfather's air force service in World War II), and the effect is a sweet, momentary reverie. Taken amid the noise and static of the modern world (and modern music), the ebullience of That's Why I've Got to Sing stands out not only for its out-of-step nature but for the purity with which it embraces its medium and its themes. The album's title gives it away, and every song just reinforces the joy.
Want your CD to be considered for a review in this space? Send music c/o Riverfront Times, Attn: Homespun, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Suite 200, St. Louis, Missouri, 63130. Email [email protected] for more information.