Raging Slab

The Dealer

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Years have passed since the South rose again, albeit briefly, via Raging Slab's memorable Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert. A powerhouse of an album that was unfairly ignored by all but the most open-minded listeners of the early '90s, it was followed by the total creative cop-out that was 1996's Sing Monkey Sing -- a clunker of such mind-boggling proportions that one could only assume the Slab had run its course. And sure enough, in the years that followed, the group's creative core of husband/wife team Greg Strezmpka and Elyse Steinman sank back into the Pennsylvania mud, seemingly for good. Yet, hope springs eternal in the new millennium and so, five years on, comes forth a new Raging Slab album in the shape of 2001's The Dealer. Not quite a return to form, this instead is a rather brooding, workmanlike record containing a whopping 16 tracks (they did have plenty of time to write them, after all). The problem is that almost none of them show any signs of the pep and sense of humor that Raging Slab once wore proudly on its tasseled sleeves, and which, lest listeners forget, is as important an element of Southern rock as anything darker and morose. Could there ever have been a "Free Bird" or "Whipping Post" without the tongue-in-cheek fun of "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Flirtin' With Disaster"? But not to digress: Simply put, The Dealer is uniformly depressing and bitter, with songs about heavy drugs ("Sir Lord Ford," "Chasin the Dragon") interspersed with often roaming, aimless rockers like "Double Wide" and the droning "I Don't Know," thereby annihilating any positive vibes one might hope to find. To make matters worse, slide guitarist Steinman's blood-curdling croak through the aforementioned "Chasin the Dragon" and re-baptized blues staple "Good Mornin' Lil' Schoolboy" is positively terrifying. Thankfully, the disc does have its fair share of bright moments to save the day: namely, the gorgeously soulful "Real Good Time" and the spunky "Flap Your Double Flap," which finds Strezmpka doing his best Billy Gibbons impersonation and the band clicking behind him like ZZ Top. And to her credit, the eerie interweaving guitars of "Roadless Rider" actually provide an ideal backdrop for Steinman's fearsome growl. In summary, Raging Slab could and has done a lot worse, but listeners all know the band can also do much better.

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