Rating: 3.5 out of 5
There’s a scruffy, liquored-up swagger to Diamond Rugs’ debut album, which might as well have been recorded during an all-night jam session in Hollywood Town Hall, fueled by a molotov cocktail of whiskey, bong hits and a collective appreciation for Sticky Fingers’ faster tracks. John McCauley, frontman of Deer Tick and one third of the singer/songwriter supergroup Middle Brother, is clearly the captain here, but he lets his bandmates take the wheel often, a wise move when you’re fronting a lineup comprised of members from Los Lobos, Dead Confederate, Black Lips and Six Finger Satellite.
So, even though Deer Tick’s punky, yowling take on hillbilly country-rock is a close relative to Diamond Rugs’ own sound, it’s more of a first cousin than an identical twin, and the few songs that deviate from the Deer Tick template are some of the album’s most enjoyable. “Country Mile,” a swampy mind-bender sung by Dead Confederate’s Hardy Morris, veers between straightforward Americana and psychedelic blues-rock, and “Hightail” throws a bone to Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin by replicating the clean, good-natured Tex-Mex that his band pioneered during the ‘80s. The guys do the more predictable stuff pretty well, too, from the Bob Dylan-inspired “Blue Mountains” to the scuzzy “Tell Me Why,” which works some Stax-styled horns into the mix. The whole thing feels almost stereotypically masculine — most of these songs are about getting drunk, hiring prostitutes and/or telling an ex-girlfriend to piss off — but Diamond Rugs never purport to be anything more than rag-tag, blue-collar guys you’d never take home to mom… unless mom knows good music when she hears it.