LA based Crosby Tyler has proven his affinity for the American folk and blues tradition with his two previous releases, Ten Songs of America Today and Lectric Prayer. On these he was backed by some stellar musicians including Peter Case (who produced Ten Songs), DJ Bonebrake and members of Nickel Creek. The One Man Band Rebellion is exactly that, Tyler on guitar, bass drum and harmonica, a genuine one man band with all songs recorded in one take, no overdubs or studio gimmickry. As he says ” It seemed that nobody knew how to record direct, one-take style, as a one man band. The bass drum posed a problem for most modern day engineers.” Tyler credits producer/engineer Jamie Bridges for capturing the sound he wanted and it has to be said the sound is excellent capturing the old time roughness of spontaneous playing with a sparkling clarity while the bass drum/guitar/harp set up is perfect for Tyler’s hobo folksiness.
The album itself continues Tyler’s mission to document and champion the underdogs, society’s cast offs be they junkies, bikers, hippies, white trash which was evident on Ten Songs. The language is raw (and not radio friendly) but it speaks of the streets with some arresting tales and images and the overall impression is similar to a collection of short stories in the tradition of Willy Vlautin with some Bukowski thrown in (up) for good measure. And while the subject matter might be downbeat the delivery is at times very up with slide driven acoustic blues and gospel tinged campfire songs sidling up against some very fine songs in the manner of Kristofferson and Guthrie.
Tyler opens the album with the scrubbed country blues of Live Or Die featuring an escaped convict who “jumped barbed wire had myself a weekend/I drank tequila sang Johnny Cash tunes/I got my face on the six o’clock news” who’s sitting with a stick of dynamite waiting to die. Merle haggard and Willie Nelson get name checks as they’re playing on the jukebox in the one horse town Tyler rides into on Bikers, Hippies and Honky Tonkin’ Cowboys, a foot stomping portrait of the type of bar Thelma and Louise visited with the denizens described as “you can love them hate them but there ain’t no better crowd.” Red Cross Blues eases on the gas as Tyler fingerpicks his way through the sorry tale of a wounded vet returning home and worried how he’ll be able to face his child. It’s an impressive and affecting performance with a sense of anger hidden in the pathos. This unsentimental portrayal of hurt and damage continues in Us Black Sheep Ain’t Like The Others, a fine raw slice of drug addled lives where “our blood is hustlin’, dealin’, stealin’ and some days killing, Black sheep we ain’t like the others, we were born to be rowdy motherfuckers.” Their poverty is highlighted at the beginning of the song in the line “there ain’t no McDonalds here in Mendocino.” The bleakest moments come in the magnificent Bloody Mary Mornin’ Till I Die where Tyler applies Willie Nelson’s momentary sense of regret to an entire life as his character “is dogging from the law holed up in Little Rock, Arkansas/held up a 99 cent store/something that I drank made me so irate/almost put a granddaddy in his grave.” Unlike Nelson, who’s flying away from his regret, here we have a man who “just shaved my head/ laid all day in bed/watched Porky Pig cartoons” and who appears doomed, never to reach California as “the orange blossoms wither” and he’s stuck until he dies. Powerful stuff indeed.
Tyler offers further snapshots of drug addled, booze ridden captives in Pissed It All Away, Never Trust a Junkie and It Ain’t Easy to Be Me with his voice wearied and road worn while his trusty guitar, drum and harp accompany this bleak roll call of America’s underbelly. All in all a great album.