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The third album from J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Essential Tremors borrows its name from a nervous-system disorder that’s long plagued the band’s frontman. “It’s this condition where my hands shake―sometimes not at all, but sometimes pretty bad,” says singer/pianist/guitarist Walston. “I’ve referenced it throughout all our records in some way, but it made sense to be more open about it on this album, which is partly about owning and embracing your weirdness instead of letting it hold you captive because you don’t even want to talk about it.”
For J. Roddy Walston & The Business―who formed in 2002 in Walston’s hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee―embracing weirdness means a mumble-out-loud celebration of that great and terrible burden of being human. Forcing the oft-clashing worlds of art and rock-and-roll to make nice, the band (including guitarist/vocalist Billy Gordon, bassist/vocalist Logan Davis, and drummer Steve Colmus) deals in a scrappy yet sublime sound that honors both their Southern roots and punk spirit. On Essential Tremors, J. Roddy Walston & The Business builds off that formula with a mix of heavy hooks and elegant melodies revealing their affinity for artists as disparate as Led Zeppelin, pre-disco-era Bee Gees, The Replacements, Randy Newman, and the Southern soul outfits that once populated the Stax Records label.
Co-produced by Matt Wignall (Delta Spirit, Cold War Kids) and Grammy-winning producer/engineer Mark Neill (The Black Keys) at Neill’s own Soil of the South Studios (a Valdosta, Georgia-based facility where J. Roddy Walston & The Business were the first to ever record), the follow-up to 2010’s much-acclaimed self-titled sophomore album also finds the band crafting lyrics that ultimately serve as a secret language to the initiated listener.
Watch Brand New “Heavy Bells” Live Teaser
“It seems like most bands write for either the animal side of people or for the side that’s more in tune with the spirit or even just the psyche, but we tend to just smash all those things together,” says Walston. “It’s like we’re writing religious songs for the animal side. We’ve got songs that feel like party songs but if you look at it closer, it’s something more cerebral. So for the people who want to dig in and connect all the weird crosswires, the song can turn into something else.” And because J. Roddy Walston & The Business is practiced in the art of subversion, he adds, “these are songs you can get away with listening to around ‘the straights.’ The danger is in what lies behind the codes and the prose, and how gently they unravel once you’ve digested them.”
Endlessly shifting from snarling and stompy to warm and soulful—and often encompassing all of the above within the same note―Essential Tremors opens with “Heavy Bells,” a powerhouse lead single that starts out breezy then gives way to a blistering chorus that threatens to rip Walston’s sweetly ragged vocals right open. The album amps up that brutal energy on songs like “Hard Times” (an epic anthem built on a mercilessly driving bassline) and “Sweat Shock” (a track that comes off like dance-floor war cry for Native American metalheads), while “Marigold” keeps it blissfully catchy and “Black Light” offers a glammed-up bedroom boogie that could be the soundtrack to a metaphysical seduction scene. Even when turning tender (such as on the heart-on-sleeve serenade “Boys Can Never Tell,” the harmony-soaked “Nobody Knows,” and the album-closing stunner “Midnight Cry”), Essential Tremors burns with a raw passion that’s nothing short of glorious.
Releasing their debut EP Here Comes Trouble in 2002, J. Roddy Walston & The Business relocated to Baltimore in 2004 after Walston’s then-girlfriend (and now wife) began studying opera at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Along with putting out their first full-length album (2007’s Hail Mega Boys), the band devoted the next few years to earning a reputation as an incendiary live act that devotees aptly liken to “AC/DC fronted by Jerry Lee Lewis.” Along with touring with the likes of The Black Keys, Lucero and the Lumineers, J. Roddy Walston & The Business have brought their joyfully chaotic performance to such festivals as Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, and Bonnaroo.
Melting all manner of stereotypes into an as-yet-unnamed breed of New American, each performance finds hipsters hugging Teamsters and sweating till it hurts, and art-school cynics and metalheads screaming out every lyric in some gorgeously desperate attempt to connect. There seems to be a competition between the band and the crowd as to who will give more each night. To attempt that connection for yourself, check out the band on their upcoming fall tour; all dates are listed below.
8/10/13-Davis, WV-Canaan Valley Resort
8/11/13-Wilmington, DE-World Café Live at the Queen
8/17/13- Portsmouth, NH- Redhook Ale Brewery
9/5/13-Cleveland, OH-Beachland Ballroom and Tavern
9/7/13-St Louis, MO-Loufest
9/9/13-Minneapolis, MN-7th Street Entry
9/10/13-Milwaukee, WI-Club Garibaldi’s
9/11/13-Madison, WI-High Noon Saloon
9/12/13-Chicago, IL-Double Door
9/14/13-Cincinnati, OH- PNC Pavilion at Riverbend
9.20/13- Baltimore, MD- Rams Head Live
9/24/13- Pittsburgh, PA- Club Cafe
9/25/13-Louisville, KY- Waterfront Park
9/28/13- Kansas City, MO- Czar Bar
9/30/13-Denver, CO- Hi-Dive
10/1/13- Salt Lake City, UT- The State Room
10/3/13- Portland, OR- Mississippi Studios
10/5/13- Vancouver, BC, Canada- Biltmore Cabaret
10/7/13- Seattle, WA- Tractor Tavern
10/10/13- San Francisco, CA- The Independent
10/11/13- Los Angeles, CA- Troubadour
10/12/12- San Luis Obispo, CA- SLO Brewing Company
10/13/13- San Diego, CA- Soda Bar
10/15/13- Phoenix, AZ- Crescent Ballroom
10/18/13- Austin, TX- Stubbs Jr.
10/19/13- Dallas, TX, INDEX Festival
10/21/13- New Orleans, LA- One Eyed Jacks
10/23/13-Birmingham, AL- Bottle Tree
10/24/13- Atlanta, GA- Terminal West
10/25/13- Athens, GA- Georgia Theatre
10/26/13- Nashville, TN- Exit In
10/28/13- Charleston, SC- The Pour House
10/29/13-Raleigh, NC- Kings Barcade
10/31/13- Richmond, VA- Strange Matter
11/2/13- New York, NY- Bowery Ballroom
11/4/13- Boston, MA- Great Scott’s
11/6/13- Philadelphia, PA- Theatre of the Living Arts
11/7/13- Washington, DC- 9:30 Club
“Explosive” – Paste
“A riotous live show full of fleet-fingered piano trills, yowled choruses, soul, sweat” – Spin