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Album Review

THE STEELWELLS
Shallow On the Draft

A few friends of mine said that the eighties was coming back with a vengeance and damned if they weren't right. Of course, it hardly seems like vengeance when it's The Steelwells, who have somehow separated the worst of the eighties from the best, updated it and baked it until rockin'. You want A Flock of Seagulls? Wham? ABC? Culture Club? Well, you won't find it on Shallow On the Draft. Sure, the sound is vaguely reminiscent of the period (with a strange nautical bent I find fascinating) and the dominance of keyboards stands out slightly, but these guys put their own edge on it and somehow capture the feel without falling into that eighties black hole we all knew so well. Granted, a few bands avoided the black hole, most notably Duran Duran whose run, as short as it was, was beyond the fifteen minutes of fame for most, but the eighties are remembered more for the nostalgia than the actual music. Well, the music is back.

Then again, hearing the definite spin The Steelwells put on their music, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the eighties had more to offer than a handful of pop dance bands with weird hair, overdone makeup and gawdawful clothes. Maybe. In my mind, though, there is no maybe to the belief that The Steelwells would have stood on the shoulders of the bands of that era. Don't believe me? Take a listen. It's in the grooves. For one thing, it is one thing to have hooks and altogether something else to know what to do with them. These guys know.

It is most obvious on El Capitan, the melody and harmonies solid over a shuffling rhythm that makes you want to move, even while sitting. Lay the overriding vocal on top (a simple 'whee' carrying a tune all its own) and you have solid gold. The subject? Greed. It is Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (a fascinating book) put to music from the viewpoint of the ship's crew and while that is probably me reading too much into it, it is too eerily parallel for me to think otherwise. Musically, it is catchy as hell and you may well have trouble keeping it out of your head. Big Yellow Sky is as eighties as they get, partially due to the overlayed rhythms (the beat quick and snappy, the vocals more drawn out and long) and the break (the eeriness of “We're stuck on this ship for life/But can the whole crew survive” and the sound of the vocals take me back with that aforementioned vengeance). And, seriously, how can a song titled This Dance Is Out of Your Hands not be eighties? Okay, eighties influenced, then.

Good eighties. Solid eighties. And updated. Hell, if the eighties had had more music like this, I might have stepped out of my power pop shell now and again and done a little shuffle dance my own self.

One thing is sure. These guys are tight, talented and deserving of a listen. The sound is great (the production values are as good as it gets), the vocals are outstanding and the band--- well, like I said, these guys are tight. If you want to dance, dance. I prefer just listening and I'm listening to this quite a lot. It is the upper I need now and again, a palate cleanser, if you will. When the music all starts sounding the same, the past couple of months The Steelwells and Stealing Jane get the call. Sometimes you just have to spit the same old into the can and go with what makes you happy. These guys do the job just fine.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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