The Del-Lords

Frontier Days

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It's hard to say what anyone should have expected from a band fronted by the former rhythm guitarist for the Dictators and featuring Joan Jett's ex-lead guitar player, but it probably wasn't the tough, populist roots rock of the Del-Lords. The group's debut album, Frontier Days, proved that Scott Kempner knew enough to hold on to several of the Dictators' key virtues (quick wit and hard rock passion) while adding a few touches of his own (left-leaning politics with a strong blue-collar stripe, a sound that blended the best of blues, country, and no-frills barroom rock), while Eric "Roscoe" Ambel hadn't lost touch with the streamlined kick-ass rock & roll that was the hallmark of his former boss, Ms. Jett. The Del-Lords were smart without losing touch of their streetwise instincts, and rocked hard without sacrificing melodies that would stick in your ear long after the songs were over; however, while Frontier Days is a reasonably accurate document of the Del-Lords' blazing live show, the overly tidy and oddly hollow-sounding production by Lou Whitney robs this band of a goodly share of its full power, especially in Kempner and Ambel's guitars and Frank Funaro's drums. Frontier Days has some great songs and spirited performances, but one senses this band wanted to rock a lot harder than the circumstances permitted -- a presumption that was confirmed on the group's next album.

In 2009, Frontier Days made its belated CD debut in a new edition from American Beat Records. For the reissue, Frontier Days was expanded with five bonus tracks, featuring demos of "Shame on You" and "Heaven" -- the latter appeared on the group's second album, Johnny Comes Marching Home -- and rough takes of "Wastin' Time Talkin'," "Love Among the Ruins," and "Love on Fire." "Love Among the Ruins" is a bit too melodramatic for its own good, but the other two tunes are great rockers that would have kicked up the album's pace. The new version also includes liner notes from Scott Kempner on how the band came together and the recording of Frontier Days; it's great reading for fans of the band, and folks who've been carefully protecting their aging vinyl copies of the album will definitely want to pick up the CD release.

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