Flat Duo Jets
Wild Wild Love
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Before the White Stripes, before the Black Keys and even before the Dexter Romweber duo, there was Chapel Hill’s Flat Duo Jets. Initially just a raw, rocking two piece featuring Romweber’s rugged, retro guitar strum and occasional lead blasts with Chris “Crow” Smith’s frantic drums, they burst, somewhat surreptitiously, on the scene in 1984. The unsuspecting public wasn’t sure what to make of their rockabilly/country/blues aesthetic. Imagine Elvis’ Sun sessions infused with the Cramps’ (who the Jets opened for) psychedelic impulses and you’re close to the roots garage racket these guys churned up on their home-grown, live to tape cassette EP six song debut, In Stereo. Exene Cervenka, one of the band’s many musical fans (which also include Neko Case and not surprisingly Jack White), called the sound “hardcore Americana,” a concise and near perfect description of the band’s attack.
The twosome briefly added stand-up bass for 1990’s full length album, simply called Flat Duo Jets, and a notoriously unhinged David Letterman performance of the obscure rockabilly gem “Wild, Wild Lover,” from which this reissue derives its related name. Now expanded to include both the EP and the album on one platter with a second of surprisingly well recorded outtakes, the Flat Duo Jets never went out of style because they were never in style.
The sheer scope of the music, both on the already issued material but especially on the previously unreleased 13 tracks, is impressive. Ranging from Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt’s jazz standard “Minor Swing” to obscure gems written by Louis Prima, Huey Smith, the Dave Clarke 5 (a surfy “Tequila”-influenced instrumental rocker called “Chaquita”) and soundtrack maestro Elmer Bernstein (the main theme to the movie “The Man with the Golden Arm”), these guys were no one-note novelty act. Dex even plays a mean piano, most notably on a jaunty cover of Fats Domino’s obscure “When I’m Walking (Let Me Walk)”, here called “Strut My Stuff” and a Romweber original with the non-original title of “Bring it On Home” that has little connection to Sam Cooke’s song.
Romweber, now in his early 50s, still cranks out music in predominantly the same vein with various permutations of players; perhaps a little more restrained than what is here from nearly three decades ago, but with a similar uninhibited streak. Yet these early recordings show he emerged fully formed with a clear vision of his life’s work. They remain essential listening for anyone interested in the intersection of where roots rockabilly, surf, garage and R&B met punk. Or Romweber’s still unique version of it.
A link inside the package connects to a fascinating and informative 40 page digital booklet with rare show flyers, photos and lengthy pieces written about the Flat Duo Jets. It further enhances this set with historical background for those who weren’t there the first time, which is most of us.