The Del Lords (from the album The Elvis Club) - Elvis Club is album number five from a band that saw glory days in the 1980’s. They had ringers on the demo with both the lead vocalist (mostly) and the lead guitarist having good punk rock resumes. Scott Kempner was the guitarist for The Dictators, and Eric Ambel was the guitarist for The Blackhearts backing Joan Jett.
The Del-Lords were a Lower East Side act in look, sound and that NYC there’s-something-in-the-water attitude. They stood for something-- Rock’n’Roll. In the 1999 liner notes for the band’s best of compilation, Get Tough, Scott Kempner stated “The Del-Lords believed. Good God a-mighty we believed! We believed in guitars. We believed in The Big Beat. We believed in speaking from the heart. We believed in each other. We believed in Rock’n’Roll.”
Their first release (Frontier Days 1984) showed radio promise and the decision was to bring in a name producer for Johnny Comes Marching Home. The band enlisted Pat Benatar’s husband/guitarist Neil Gerardo, to helm album number two and its follow-up Based on A True Story. The Del-Lords never promised to be anything more than true believers, and that is what they delivered. It was more about getting the same feeling as the records they grew up with in New York. Scott Kempner claims a Prince of the Bronx banner heading. It fits. The songs of The Del-Lords were soundtracked from city streets. Even the radio friendly “Cheyenne”, spoke to the country west of Jersey but not as an option, just a nice Pop song reference. The Del-Lords aimed for the Top 40 Pop market, but they never completely read the memo. Pop songs make you feel good. The songs of The Del-Lords made you feel.
So, 2013, and the new album Elvis Club arrives. Like many albums that are years in the making, Elvis Club could wear the “it was like reconnecting with an old friend” or “like no time had passed” tags. The Del-Lords have always played reality as their lead card. Elvis Club is a great fucking album, pure and simple. Time has passed. They are only three-quarters of the original line-up, with bass player Manny Ciaiti opting out to pursue law in Austin. Frank Funaro is traveling drummer with both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. Eric Ambel is Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, a producer who has more liner credits to his name than there are label logos to stick on new releases. Roscoe records Roots like no one else out of Cowboy Technical Services in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY. Scott has continued with solo projects and producing for the other Prince of the Bronx, Dion (DeMucci). Scott has also taken the big step. He moved west of Jersey.
Elvis Club opens with a coming-of-age realization that drugs bring a lot of change, though not all of those new methods of doing business get business done in a timely manner (or at all). From note one on Elvis Club, The Del-Lords rock, rock and then rock again. There is no point to prove. The band does what they have always done. They are New Yorkers. They play music they enjoy and bet on the fact the world likes it as much as they do.
Scott Kempner has the lead vocals for the majority of the songs on Elvis Club. Eric comes in for vocals on three album tracks, "Me & The Lord Blues", “Flying” and Neil Young’s “Southern Pacific”. Scott shares writers’ credits with Dion on the “flick your Bic”-ready, rock’n’soul flavored “Everyday”. The Del-Lords never stray too far from their Rock’n’Roll roots. The songs on Elvis Club never seek to be more than the three or four minutes of glory that is their destiny. “Chicks, Man” is a man cave head nod, and “All My Life” is the audio version of a chick flick. The songs never truly give up their right to rock, though the pace settles to a slow burn on tracks like “Silverlake”. When The Del-Lords give themselves, and their songs, over to what they take for granted, when the band slowly turns their back on the audience to turn up the amps, that is when the years between the fire of misspent youth becomes the torch carried into the present. No difference in temperature. The only change is how the heat hits you.
“Me and the Lord Blues”, with Roscoe on vocals, ain’t nothing but low riding riffs and caffeine injected edges. Lines like “no food on my table, too much on my plate” fine tune the message by dialing out the clutter of what could be and rest only on what is. Roscoe’s guitar work weaves through Elvis Club with a confidence that makes for musical hooks that will stick like the smell of leather on a bomber jacket. A true gem of Elvis Club is the as-is tag that accompanies “Damaged”. The song opens the door to embrace a dysfunctional relationship-- if I am attracted, there must be something wrong, there’s got to be some damage somewhere.
The Del-Lords remain on course with Rock’n’Roll that makes a difference. DANNY McCLOSKEY/RA