Detroit might be known as the city where the weak are killed and eaten, and if this standard is indeed true, then Deadstring Brothers must’ve skimmed past the musical carnage by abiding by their own rules of cool. Formed in 2001 by singer-songwriter Kurt Marschke, Deadstring Brothers have no doubt accrued the bruising and scarring associated with life as a real touring rock band, but all of the personnel changes and unexpected obstacles couldn’t have kept their bluesy barroom swagger from ever sounding more genuine. Sao Paulo is the brilliant result of a band that has put its hardships, its fortunes, and its collective dreams onto 10 tracks of honest rock ‘n roll.
The group’s third album Chicago’s Bloodshot Records, Sao Paulo opens with the front-porch sliding, acoustic blues of the title track. This deep Delta minimalist approach soon begins to grow into the full rock groove of a band in top form. Marschke’s gruff vocals are countered with a higher chorus asking for help along the journey; whether musical or spiritual, this opening track is an indicator that this album is best played with the volume up. Plenty of comparisons have been made between Deadstring Brothers and early ’70s era Rolling Stones, and this might be the best household name to use when trying to describe the group’s approach to rock ‘n roll. At times, that might be a fair assessment, but also one hell of a compliment. After all, who doesn’t love that classic Stones’ line-up? "Smile" can be described as a number that might have originated while spending time in that classic era state of mind. On "Smile," Marschke has the wide-mouth delivery that can make a line like "Up all night, can’t sleep all day, won’t let a dream away, all I want to do is see you smile," seem so familiar.
"Houston" makes the best use of rollicking piano to grow the sound, "Can’t Make It Through the Night," makes the best use of a whiskey drinking heartbreak number, and "The River Song" makes the best use of allowing Spencer Cullum’s slide guitar room to play. However, it is the addition of Masha Marjieh’s vocals on "Always a Friend of Mine" that makes the track so hauntingly beautiful.
Had Deadstring Brothers hailed from L.A. or NYC, then their music might have effortlessly reached a larger audience, but the group might have also succumbed to the big city glamour and glitz that would’ve been piled thick upon the heart and soul of their talent. As it stands, Sao Paulo is the result of a group of musicians that love their music enough to take it to their audiences one night and one mile at a time. This album has been worth the wait.
Sao Paulo is out now on Bloodshot Records.