A friend once told me that she liked Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers because Petty had never written a rock opera. She was expressing her approval of a band’s artistic decision to stick to what they do best. On their latest album, Chicago’s Riptones don’t stray far from the musical recipe they’ve followed in the past, but this time the meat’s a little tangier and the taters are tastier.
The band, which is now a trio, plays rockabilly and honky-tonk tunes designed to get your head bobbin’ and your butt movin’. All eleven tracks were written by lead singer-guitarist Jeb Bonansinga, who is joined by Earl Carter on upright bass and Kurt Wiesend on drums.
The opening track, “I Can’t And I Won’t”, is typical Riptones fare; against a boogie-woogie hillbilly beat, Bonansinga sings of a married man’s temptation to stray. This is followed by three interesting character studies: “Crazy Charlie”, “Mama’s Boy”, and “Run Around Man”. Lyrically speaking, these songs wouldn’t fully engage your average psychology professor, but it’s nice to hear some twangy tunes that aren’t about cars, food or romance. A couple of instrumentals, “Go Be And Do” and “Big Timber”, allow the musicians to show off their considerable chops.
The album contains one very pleasant surprise. While most of the material is fairly lightweight, “Jack’s Last Time” is a brilliant story-song set in the Old West, an exciting tale about a bounty hunter’s final mission in the tradition of great Texas troubadours Guy Clark and Joe Ely. Bonansinga has crafted an unforgettable story filled with striking details; in the hands of a skilled director, it would make one helluva movie.