[STIFF COUNTRY] The byproduct of rocky relationships, loneliness and one too many drinks, Rowdy Love is nothing if not downtrodden. Denver's sophomore record speaks to midlife troubles with the wisdom and sincerity of someone on their deathbed. Perhaps that's to be expected from co-frontman Tom Bevitori, who has come closer to death than most due to infections stemming from Crohn's disease.
There are no gimmicks, and the structure is conventional: classic country instrumentation wrapped around heartbreak and self-loathing. Seeing how pure Americana is so often tugged either the formulaic and lucrative way of Toby Keith or the folk-revival direction of, well, just about every other band out there, it's nice to have country served neat, even if it leaves you wobbling.
Recorded live in just two days' time with the production help of Eric Earley (Blitzen Trapper), Rowdy Love draws on the traditionalism of Willie Nelson and the occasional firestorm of Deer Tick. The band, a revolving cast of rootsy Portland artists, is led by the trio of Mike Elias, Birger Olsen and Bevitori. All three write and sing, from distinct perspectives with distinctive voices, affording Denver textured three-part harmonies. The band kicks the proverbial can down a dusty road, but does so in the collective fashion of a support group. And as a supergroup of sorts (with the aid of Sean MacNeil, Billy Slater and Lewi Longmire), it's all the more endearing. Take "Sammyville," a gently crumbling track featuring Olsen's faraway foghorn of a voice trailed by gusts of electric guitar and harmonica. Or "Bound to Lose," a full-bodied, near honky-tonk track seemingly plucked from a cinematic getaway scene. Throughout, lead guitarist Longmire shines, shifting moods with varying amounts of steel and twang.
Dubbing Denver "heavy" would be an understatement. But good country shouldn't tread lightly. After all, it's an American institution wallowing in booze and breakups. Drink it in, but expect a hangover.
SEE IT: Denver plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Michael Hurley, on Saturday, July 19. 10 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.