The Hi-Risers


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Panic! is a supercharged, tail-finned, dual-exhausted, spark plug of a record. It is pedal-to-the-metal rock & roll in the original sense of the euphemism -- a little bit motor oil, a little bit Brill cream, and a whole lot of party. The trio knows its way around three chords and thick reverb, Chuck Berry riffs, and walking basslines, plus surf music and rockabilly rowdiness, in a way that few bands or artists since the late 1950s and very early 1960s have. They possess the serious chops to drag the music out of the Elks clubs and biker bars where it has languished since just-plain-rock stole its thunder and its audience right around the time the Beatles hit American shores. In other words, Panic! isn't campy or retrofitted -- the Hi-Risers are certainly no gold-laméed Sha-Na-Na -- it's the real, garage-raw deal. One listen to "Devil's Backbone" or the bluesy Presleyisms of "Back Spasm Baby" brings that home in rabble-rousing glory. The songwriting is fresh even as it fits into the conventions of the genre, yet the band eschews any manner of sentimentality or out-of-touch nostalgia, mainly because the members have a genuine reverence for the fundamentals of the style (its sublime and elemental simplicity, the driving R&B rhythms) and because they have at least as much devilish fun flaunting those fundamentals and milking them for all they're worth as did a Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. Contrary to the combo's proclamation that it "Ain't No Beatle," the Hi-Risers also prove they know their way around the exuberant tunefulness of early Fab Four, especially on "My Baby Wants to Know" and the aforementioned disclaimer. But even more wonderfully, they have hardcore country attitude down colder than cheap beer in the ice cooler, whether its "cop-dodgin', line-crossin'" recklessness (the seriously road-worthy "Gear Bustin' Sort of a Feller") or honky-tonk with a big aching heart ("18 Wheels of Love," "Somebody Lied"). Panic! is the kind authentic tribute that one of the periodic '50s revivals deserves as its soundtrack, as opposed to, say, Grease or Happy Days, proof that the decade's music, in the right hands, is still a vital, rather than gentrified voice from pop music's outgrown past.

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