Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers

Guitar Trouble

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It's clear that Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers were given a bigger budget on his second album, 1990's Guitar Trouble, a record that has clean, slick punch thanks to Dwight Yoakam producer Pete Anderson and star cameos from the likes of Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson. Anderson's presence and his drafting of Johnson conspire to give Conwell a roots rock credibility he never aspired to in the first place, probably because he was writing boogies like "Let Me Love You Too" to get the barroom rocking -- and when he wasn't doing that, he could toss off a bit of Sun rockabilly in the title track or turn introspective in songs like "I'm Seventeen," an angst anthem that plays like shorthand Paul Westerberg. Instead of picking up in these two almost contradictory instincts in Conwell, Anderson pushes him toward easily digestible roots rock, possibly on the label's urging, so he winds up with a generic boogie like "Nice 'n Naughty" and too-clean blues shuffles like "Do Right" that threaten to turn him into bluesy background music. Conwell was better than that -- and, besides, he "Didn't Want to Sing the Blues," as he says on one of the better co-written tunes here -- and he is able to show his skills a few times onGuitar Trouble, but this was a troubled project, caught between Conwell's blue-collar roots and the label's aspirations, so it sounds compromised in a way Rumble never does. Like that record, the best moments are quite effective -- the title track rocks like nobody's business, "Hard as a Rock" gets that heartland rock anthem right in a way Rumble didn't quite do, and "I'm Seventeen" does have a ragged heart. Tellingly, those are all compositions credited to Conwell alone, suggesting that he may have known what he was about better than his major-label benefactors.

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