J. Roddy Walston & The Business, ‘Essential Tremors’

“Essential Tremors” gets three out of five stars.



Parker Munson, Writer

The heyday of American music varies based on whom you’re asking, but no one can deny that the rockabilly days of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley had a unique power that rattled the American heartland and changed it for good. However, it’s the 21st century, and that old sound has long been dead and buried. Until now, hardly anyone has attempted to resurrect the heart-pounding, foot-stomping ghost of Johnny B. Goode. With “Essential Tremors,” J. Roddy Walston & The Business have broken out the ivories and sent the dust flying with a record that has as much soul as a hymnal and as much kick as a mule – and yes, it is as weird as that sounds.


Though the band had a couple early self-released albums, J. Roddy Walston & The Business first stumbled onto the scene with their self-titled debut in 2010, and no one was quite sure what do with it. They sat so snugly between redneck and cool that it was nearly impossible to place them. In Baltimore City Paper, Bret McCabe wrote, “J. Roddy Walston and the Business is what would happen if Queen and Black Oak Arkansas birthed four boys in the backwoods and let them listen to nothing but Cheap Trick and show tunes.” If that sounds confusing to you, and perhaps a bit disgusting, you are not alone. This weird mix of influence and styles is generally paired with a good dose of irony, but JRW & The Biz are far too tenacious to extend you the satisfaction.

On the surface, “Essential Tremors” sounds sort of like your run-of-the-mill local rock band that fills seedy bars but never a theatre. However, what sets them apart from your everyday deadbeats, and has allowed them to garner an ever-increasing fan base, is their frank and earnest lyricism accompanied by accessible jams. The album’s leadoff single, “Heavy Bells” tackles the question of religious predetermination, using church bells as a metaphor for institutionalized religion. It’s all done in a cathartic, head banging fashion as Walston sings in a half-growl, half-moan, “All hail heavy bells.”

The album then segues into “Marigold,” a song that, as Walston described for Spin Magazine, is a “Girl meets boy who is pretending to be a girl, who is poor and an artist and dabbling in drug usage because it's all art and his trust fund says so,” kind of story. Sarcastic or not, the song explores issues of gender and sexuality in a way that seems much more laid back and open for interpretation than most recent pop songs, though maybe with little more down-home crass than some might prefer.


But the album isn’t all grits and gravy. Tracks like “Sweat Shock” and “Black Light” break out of the southern groove and venture into a whole new realm of funk, bordering on what almost sounds like a cross between Ok Go and Dr. Dog.  “Boys Can Never Tell” takes a break from the electric guitars and delivers an acoustic serenade, complete with a swirling slide guitar. The albums closer, “Midnight Cry” offers a soulful conclusion with a catchy melody and bluesy riffs.

After three years, it’s still pretty tricky to figure out where J. Roddy Walston & The Business fit into the grand scheme of things. As they’ve matured, their sound has become a bit less southern in nature, while they’ve still remained attached to their roots and the values that established them. Their more modern sound is sure to land them on stage with some more notable indie acts, if they play their cards right.

In the end it’s just too hard not to like the guys. They’re not afraid to have fun and yell about the things they find important. Which, if you’re asking me, is what rock ‘n’ roll should be all about.

You can catch J. Roddy Walston & The Business at the Troubadour in LA on October 11th. Visit jroddywalstonandthebusiness.com/tour for tickets and more information.


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