Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers

Rumble

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Most bar bands aren't fortunate enough to cut one great song, but Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers pulled off a killer with "I'm Not Your Man," the first song and single on their 1988 debut, Rumble. It's a lean, mean slice of attitude and raunch, sanded somewhat by the major-label production they received -- the kind that was applied to any major-label act at the tail end of the '80s. Arriving in the big leagues just when Stevie Ray Vaughan was turning into a superstar, Conwell & the Young Rumblers were give perhaps a bit more polish than they really deserved -- enough to slide them onto the AOR charts but not enough to remove that growling East Coast attitude that gives Rumble enduring appeal even when the sound of the record feels a bit slick, a bit like a rejected campaign for Miller Light because Eric Clapton had a sudden crisis of conscience after "After Midnight." Where Conwell stumbles on Rumble is when he guns for anthems pitched halfway between John Mellencamp and John Cafferty, as when the first side screeches to a halt on "Love's on Fire." Conwell gets things twisting again almost immediately with the clever boogie "Workout," which is pitched much closer to his comfort zone of revved-up old-time rock & roll, performed with more wit, swagger, and verve than George Thorogood. Rumble doesn't hit that target quite as often as you'd like, but almost all of the misses feel like concessions to get Conwell & the Young Rumblers on the radio, whether it's the stiff, sequenced production -- not enough to kill a shuffle like "Everything They Say Is True" but enough to hamper it -- or those wannabe crossovers. But, as post-SRV crossover productions go, this has some life in it and it's never enough to erase the power of the album's best songs -- the urgent "Half a Heart" (their best stab at Springsteen); the tightly wound Bo Diddley rocker "Tell Me What You Want Me to Be"; the nasty boogie "Walkin' on the Water"; and "I'm Not Your Man," which is as great a roots rocker as the late '80s produced, and reason enough for the group to get its shot at the big time.

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