The Famous

Light, Sweet Crude

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The Americana tag really doesn't mesh with the Famous, at least on their debut album, Light, Sweet Crude. Although their twang roots are obvious on a handful of tracks ("Tear," "Overtime"), the Famous blow up expectations with the metallic crunch of the first cut, "Son of the Snake." While there's certainly a little bit of country in the Famous' rock & roll, this Bay Area band simply uses its roots influences as a launching pad. Laurence Scott (vocals, guitar) recalls Michael Stipe in Lifes Rich Pageant-period R.E.M. until he explodes into his ferocious psycho hillbilly howl, revealing the inspiration of the Pixies' Frank Black. Many of the songs are catapulted by Scott's wildman persona and guitarist Victor Barclay's Southern-flavored punk licks, especially the boisterous "True Believer" and "Get You Back," a pulp novel of either revenge or imminent reconciliation. Scott's words are much darker and twisted than one would expect from anything labeled as Americana. In "Lost," Scott sings, "I set myself on fire/I cut off all of my skin." Again, the Pixies, who were never hesitant in writing about self-mutilation and suicide in painfully graphic ways, are the obvious lyrical role model. The difference is that the Famous are channeling the ghosts of cowboys past, making their grim confessions more shocking in this context. "You never tried so hard/To tear my heart out," Scott croons on "Tear," and one can easily imagine him slumped on a barstool, smoking a cigarette with the clich├ęd lipstick smear. "Tear" is real country music, wounded singing and cry-in-my-beer sentiments presented without the group's cutting edges. Whether being traditional or iconoclastic, the Famous are successful with both approaches. And they have a sense of humor, too, best exemplified on the stirring surf rock of "Midway." "I'm gonna die unless I get to see the world's smallest horse," warns Scott on "Midway," looking back at his childhood with a demented wink in his eye at a time when there was nothing more important than obtaining a ZZ Top key chain. They may not be Americana, but the Famous are an American original.

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