HUDSON — Tarbox Ramblers return to Club Helsinki Hudson on Sunday, August 26, at 8 p.m.
NPR describes the sound of Tarbox Ramblers as “Homemade rock ‘n’ roll with a dose of rattlesnake venom and gospel-drenched howling,” while local music critic Seth Rogovoy writes, “The music is evocative of a world gone by and a world gone wrong, but also a world that lingers on into the 21st century.”
Tarbox Ramblers — string bassist Scott McEwen, drummer Robby Cosenza, and guitarist-vocalist Michael Tarbox — play old-soul music, including both original songs and arrangements of songs dating back to the 19th century or before — songs like “St. James Infirmary,” “Jack of Diamonds” and “The Cuckoo.” You may have heard these songs before - you probably have - but Tarbox Ramblers play these songs with a fresh urgency and immediacy, highlighting their hopes, tragedies, and otherworldliness, in a rough-hewn, uninhibited style that engages audiences wherever they play.
Michael Tarbox’s own songs reflect and expand upon the music he’s absorbed from traditional and rock influences that include Skip James, Bert Jansch and Lou Reed. Authors from the American South, like Flannery O’Connor, have also influenced his writing. Tarbox is an inventive guitarist with a distinctive barbed-wire sound; he also plays in a gospel-infused slide guitar style. He’s a smoky-voiced singer whose sound melds Appalachian folk, backwater blues and gospelin an exciting, visceral take on American music.
In a 2004 review, Seth Rogovoy wrote, “Railyards, brakemen, graves, muddy highways, horsehoes, and thieves are the iconic imagery of old blues and folk songs. So when you take a first listen to Tarbox Ramblers’ haunting new album, ‘A Fix Back East,’ you can be forgiven for assuming that most of the songs go back decades, especially given the group’s raw, primitive sound and Michael Tarbox’s ghostly vocals. But in fact, most of the songs on ‘A Fix Back East,’ the follow-up to the group’s eponymous debut, were written very recently by leader Michael Tarbox.”
“The result is a subtle blend of old-time blues and garage rock — stripped-down, minimalist, punk-inflected roots music that is not entirely unlike what better-known bands like the White Stripes are doing these days. In the case of Tarbox Ramblers, the music is evocative of a world gone by and a world gone wrong, but also a world that lingers on into the 21st century. Some things never change, and hell, damnation, and hangovers, along with love and transcendence - all of life’s essentials — are just the same today as they were 80 years ago.”
“What makes them so immediate and brings them to life on ‘A Fix Back East’ are Tarbox’s vocals — a cross between Robert Johnson at the crossroads and Bob Dylan 20 miles out of town and cold irons bound - and the stark purity of the music, which consists mostly just of guitar, string bass, drums and an occasional fiddle.”
The old-time folk song about a racehorse, “Stewball,” boasts a lineage tracing from Lead Belly to Woody Guthrie through the Weavers, Peter Paul & Mary, Lonnie Donegan, through the Joan Baez. With obvious musical roots in chain-gang songs, I like the version by Tarbox Ramblers the best.
Just generally, what I find so amazing about this group is how they mine roots music, or their own original roots-based music, to exploit the hidden rock ‘n’ roll and punk-rock energy not-so-hidden inside, as in this performance of “Last Month of the Year.”
Don’t miss Tarbox Ramblers uniquely raw, stark, minimalist take on what we now call Americana, but what used to be simply the sound of rural America.
Remember - for reservations in The Restaurant or in the club call 518.828.4800. To purchase tickets online go here
For the most up-to-date concert information, always visit Club Helsinki Hudson.
Tarbox Ramblers, a unique roots-music trio led by Michael Tarbox from Boston, used to play frequently at the original Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, Mass. I never missed one of their shows. They combined the gritty blues-rock of George Thorogood with the timeless brilliance of Appalachian folk. Years before anyone had heard of blues-rock revivalists like White Stripes and Black Keys, Tarbox Ramblers were digging deep into the place where Appalachian music, ancient blues, and gospel come together in powerful, unexpected combinations.