By Kevin Broughton
“I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
--Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Drop the needle on “Doing it Right,” the first cut of the Yawpers’ American Man – released today on Bloodshot Records – and you can be forgiven if you mistake it for a long-lost Aerosmith outtake from its heyday in the mid-70s. The frenetic, stop-and-go rhythms, squalling vocals and blistering lead guitar make it easy to get that impression.
What it does is get you by the throat and not let go. Funny thing, though: It’s two guys with acoustic guitars, plus a drummer. Wrap your brain around that, and you’ll realize this is a band that’s breaking new ground.
Walt Whitman got his last shout-out from popular culture in Dead Poets Society, wherein the late Robin Williams’ character had a classroom full of elite prep school boys standing on their chairs, shouting “Oh Captain, my captain.” Whitman was, in his mid-19th Century day, a radical. An abolitionist before it was cool to be one, he volunteered to care for wounded Union soldiers, and even flirted with taboo sexual themes in his controversial poetry. He wasn’t scared. Nor is his spiritual protégé, Yawpers front man Nate Cook.
Politically, he’s an unapologetic progressive. In and of itself, that’s nothing noteworthy. Cook names Springsteen, Steve Earle and Woody Guthrie as some of his songwriting influences, checking all the right boxes. But it’s not superficial and because he thinks he’s supposed to, like way too many of today’s reflexively liberal musicians.
“I’m proudly and solidly from the Left, politically,” says Cook, 29. “But political correctness is fucking bullshit and dangerous. People should be able to say whatever they want without being afraid of some kind of retribution.”
Do go on, Mr. Cook.
Genre is always a tricky thing for a lot of bands; is “Americana…”
“I avoid ‘Americana’ [as a classification] like the plague. It really fucking pisses me off, because I don’t want to be dumped in with some douchebag bullshit like the Lumineers.”
He ain’t scared.
But Cook is concerned about and burdened by what he sees as the plight of the disenfranchised. “What I care most about is the individual,” he says. “These characters, these American citizens in the songs…what I’m most passionate about is their being allowed to flourish.”
Raise the flag, cover your heart with your hand,
Hear the call and heed the command.
Livin’ my life with my head in the sand,
Praise the Lord, I’m an American man.
Themes of desperation and resignation pepper this record. But this ain’t your grandaddy’s Woody Guthrie. This is the Black Crowes with a social conscience. (And oh yeah, it’s three guys.) About the production…
“We recorded almost everything live,” Cook says. “[Lead guitarist] Jesse [Parmet] split his signal out three ways, with lots of gain, but you’re hearing the real deal.” Drummer Noah Shomberg’s battering-ram style ties it together to make this raw, unconventional power trio’s sound complete.
Produced by Cracker guitarist and co-founder Johnny Hickman, American Man is proof positive that the Bloodshot label is leading the pack at signing and promoting the best bands and artists that defy genre and convention.
There are a couple months to go yet, but the Yawpers are clubhouse leaders for best rock album of 2015.
They celebrate themselves, and sing themselves.
Buckle the fuck up.