Before there was “No Depression,” “Americana” or “Western Beat,” they called this stuff “Rig Rock.” And, as anyone who owns the Jeremy Tepper-produced Diesel Only compilations Rig Rock Truck Stop and Rig Rock Jukebox can attest, the Blue Chieftains were genuine Rig Rock Superstars. They even had a Bud Dry sponsorship, which landed them closer to the big time than anyone in their New York City rock ‘n’ twang scene was allowed to dwell.
The group’s chief attributes were a pleasingly disheveled, electric guitar-propelled soundscape, an unruly rhythm section (bassist Scott Yoder and now ex-Derailers drummer Mark Horn), and the clever, catchy songs of Tim Carroll. The shame of it all is that they never made an album; aside from the three selections contained on Tepper’s Rig Rock collections, a new, lo-fi live set called That’s All is the only available recording.
That’s All was preserved for posterity at a reunion show dating from sometime after the Chieftains’ 1993 breakup (the liner notes don’t offer a firm gig date), and the reproduction is anything but studio-polished. Carroll’s guitar cable gives him trouble throughout the evening, resulting in buzzes that are more palatable on a car stereo than through headphones.
Buzz be damned, this is beer-swilling, toke-sneaking, Skynyrd-loving rock, featuring some well-chosen covers (the Velvet Underground’s “We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together/Personality Crisis”, Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me”) and a slew of nifty originals. Some of Carroll’s best-known songs are here, including “If I Could, Then I Would” (two versions, one of which features Horn on well-lubricated vocals), “A Girl That’s Hip”, “Punk Rockin‚ Honky Tonk Girl” and “I Think Hank Woulda Done It This Way”.
A take on John Anderson’s “Swingin’” morphs into a jam that references the Allman Brothers, the Beatles and T Rex, and the result is something more ponderous than the sum of its parts. But Carroll’s Sex Pistols-on-downers “Shortcut” is a joy, and “Remember Your Dreams” rocks like hell and features fine slide guitar work from Stephen B. Antonakos.
“If I Could, Then I Would” is the obvious hit here, drawing the crowd into a boisterous shout-along, and Carroll’s slashing guitar solo on “Punk Rockin‚ Honky Tonk Girl” goes from rock to rawk in less than two seconds. It’s too bad That’s All is all there is, but this glorified bootleg still manages to catch the Blue Chieftains in memorable form.