Dreadnaught - The American Standard

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Red Fez Records
Catalog Number: FEZ-005
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:14:00

Oh, how to describe Dreadnaught. They really defy any easy description. The American Standard is like the soundtrack for a movie about small-town America that seems normal on the outside, but has actually gone totally bonkers. These are the mid-west folk that would populate a Steven King novel. Or southern folks that have been plucked right out of Deliverance, only they are no longer content with just menacing you with a banjo, but bring along a whole arsenal of weapons - drums, guitar, bass, violin, organs, and synths. Bring in the bluegrass of Kentucky, the brassy jazz of New Orleans, the country rock of Texas, and the roots rock of Indiana, toss in a few Red Hot Chili Peppers and bind it all together with King Crimson and this stew is spicy but studious, warm, cool, frenetic, and calmly insane. Sounds like you'd have your brain on overload, synapses firing randomly at breakneck speed trying to keep up -- coming out at the end in a catatonic state. But no, no, this all hangs together well. Sure, you're exhausted at the end when the last note of the last track fades, but there's a grin on your face as your finger hovers over the play button.

The American Standard. Well, there's nothing "standard" about anything on this album that's for sure. There is excitement in the fact that I can't find any one artist or thing to compare them to. The arrangements are complex, to be sure, something that is admired about jazz and prog rock. This trio of Richard R Habib on drums, percussion and vocals; Justin S Walton on guitars, piano, sax, organ, vocals and kazoo; and Robert M Lord on bass, synths, organ, kazoo, and background vocals plays an eclectic mix of rock, that draws in both influences of Americana, jazz, rock, and punk resulting in what they term "progabilly." I've already mentioned Red Hot Chili Peppers, which gives a funk-punk attitude to some of the material. King Crimson comes into play with the arty angularity that puts the instrumentation front and center ("Ballbuster," for example, which combines both these elements). In addition, we can also draw in a few other comparisons. Like Echolyn on Cowboy Poems Free, there is a strong sense of that Americana I mention (something that is mentioned in their biography, too, as it happens). On two pieces they reminded me very much of Echolyn, in fact: "Bünnaschidt," and "Rats And Me." The latter of these two also made me think of Elvis Costello.

"Ballbuster" distills all the Dreadnaught elements into one piece, like an overture. That is, it has it's very heavy moments and it's very lyrical moments from both guitar and violin (Andy Happel, who also plays organ on "Tournament"). The only element not to feature here is vocals, on which there is a smattering of them on the album anyway. Both Walton and Habib are credited with vocals, and while each has a distinctive voice, I'm not sure who's singing when ... what nags at me is that one of them sounds so familiar and I can't place it. At times the other's voice reminds me sometimes of Echolyn's Ray Weston.

"The Jester's Theme," starts out a cool, slinky jazz, the distorted and squelchy bass telling you that something is a bit askew here; this then morphs into something more energetic -- a bit of ragtime, a bit of honky tonk; morphing into something else again (heavy rock). This piece, "Deneb," "Tournament," and "Derby Days" form the "Deus Ex Machina" suite, collectively encompassing almost half the album. "Deneb" features some rumbling kettledrum loops courtesy Shaun Frenchie Michaud, who also plays synths here (he also engineered, mixed and mastered the album). It gives this "Deneb" some very interesting textures (Marillion used a similar sounding percussion on their "An Accidental Man"). "Tournament" takes the slinky jazz of "The Jester's Theme," darkens it, giving it a little more menace, but this soon gives way to something more akin to The Allman Brothers. Take that slinky jazz again, give it a more trad jazz feel, and you have the first part of "Derby Days." Of course, by the end of the track you are scratching your head, wondering how the heck to make of it now... from bubbly atmospherics it leaps into a bass heavy ska riff and then ends. In between, we get something that very well could be Kansas, and yes the bit of violin helps with that impression.

"Popeye" is an energetic pop piece, that sounds what might have resulted if The Beatles grown up in Louisiana rather than Liverpool. It's got the energy of rock, the catchiness of pop, with a hint of ska. But I don't know that truly best describes it. It's closer to, ahem, standard rock that some of the other pieces, but still far from it by a long ways. "Bünnaschidt" is a happy, upbeat tune, which, like "Popeye," throws a bit of 50s-60s-like harmonies... a bit like folk-rock, actually. It also features French horn from William L. Walton II and euphonium from Jay Williams. The final track, "Clownhead" (which also reminds me of both Costello and Echolyn) includes Daria J. Blake on flute.

Like the best music does, each listen reveals additional layers, revealing a complex whole. There's no way my review, or the two others here from Clayton or Marcelo can, truly capture the breadth of styles, moods and energies that Dreadnaught exhibit on The American Standard. This is something you really need to experience for yourself.

By the way, the album's artwork is a painting called "Flagface" by sci-fi/fantasy artist Tim Hildebrandt (of the brothers Hildebrandt, Greg and Tim).

Ballbuster (4:28) / Deus Ex Machina (20:30) / Popeye (2:25) / B?nnaschidt (4:50) / James Thresher Industries (0:57) / Welding (4:51) / Kim Philby (3:33) / The Pumpha?s Suite (8:13) / Clownhead (5:25)

Robert M. Lord - bass, synthesizer, organ, kazoo, background vocals
Richard R. Habib - drums, percussion, vocals
Justin S. Walton - electric and acoustic guitars, piano, saxophone, organ, kazoo, vocals
Shaun Frenchie Michaud - drums loops and synthesizer (3)
Andy Happel - violins (1,5,9,11, 13) and organ (4)
William L. Walton II - French horn (7)
Jay Williams - euphonium (7)
Daria J. Blake - flute (13)

Dreadnaught (1998)
Una Vez Mas (2000)
The American Standard (2001)
Musica En Flagrante (2004)
Live At Mojo (2005)
High Heat And Chin Music (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: December 2nd 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.dreadnaughtrock.com
Hits: 2831
Language: english


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