Chase Hamblin & The Roustabouts, VAUdeVILLE
Step right up, folks; duck your head as you make your way inside the tent, then prepare yourself for Chase Hamblin & The Roustabouts as the roll and ramble through their long-awaited full-length, VAUdeVILLE…
First things first: the band’s not kidding about the album title, there. Hamblin and his Roustabout cohorts — a band that includes Corey Power on guitars, Jeremy Nuncio on keys, bassist Rally Terrill, drummer Marcus Hughes, and percussionist Josh Applebee — have done their best to make VAUdeVILLE feel like you’re actually watching a performance on some garishly-lit, dirty stage somewhere down a back alleyway where the “respectable” people don’t ordinarily go.
It’s like a cross between a tent revival meeting, an old-timey stage/saloon show, and yes, a retro-’60s pop concert, complete with Intermission (a crackly-recorded, fun little bit of barroom piano), and it hits you like a pickpocket in a crowd, leaving you wondering what the hell just happened.
As on the band’s previous EP, A Fine Time, there’s a heavy, heavy debt here to The Beatles, particularly on bouncy, cheery (at least outwardly, but we’ll get to that) tracks like “Quiet Life” or the racing “Beautiful Things,” but there’s also a murky, vaguely sinister feel throughout. The aptly-titled “Lonesome” is dark and carnival-sounding, like a circus nightmare come to terrible, terrible (but awesome) life, and rollicking, country-gospel opening track “Can You See The Beast?” has an oddly apocalyptic, religious underpinning to it, warning that The Beast is roaming about the world, preparing for the doom of us all.
Even the more out-and-out “pretty” songs, like the jaunty pop of “I’ve Got A Brain,” have a sharp, sharp edge to them, sarcastically suggesting that maybe actually using your brain might not be a bad thing. “Round & Round,” for its part, is surprisingly political, blasting all sides of the political spectrum for all the hype and insanity while the planet, as the title says, keeps spinning around and around.
In fact, there’re a few points here that seem to be sneakily sociopolitical, making VAUdeVILLE feel almost like an album-length continuation of the themes Hamblin first hit on “A Fine Time,” the title track from the 2009 EP. Hell, maybe even the title of the album is a political statement in itself, pointing to the theatricality and ridiculousness of modern politics? Only Hamblin knows for sure, I suspect.
For my money, though, the best song on here is more on the personal side than the political; “One More Hour” sees Hamblin and The Roustabouts morph into a straight-up Motown outfit, with Hamblin crooning and howling like Otis Redding over a stutter-stepping rhythm and some awesomely-soulful keys and horns. It’s gorgeous and desperate and fragile and, hell, damn near freaking perfect.
“Cry Baby” hits a similar note, with just Hamblin’s voice and a guitar creating a sweet, quiet, delicate little lullaby of a song, and it’s very cool, as well. It’s followed by the midtempo Texas swing of “Leaving Town,” which makes me think of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” for some reason, and which sees Hamblin with rougher, less-sleek vocals that bring to mind fellow Beatlemaniacs Supergrass; not a bad thing, in my book.
The album ends by bringing you back into that darkened tent show with “Heard It All Before,” a jagged, Andalusian quasi-flamenco that revisits “Can You See The Beast?”‘s theme of evil and doom. For all it’s swaying beauty, it’s eerie and haunting, like Hamblin wants to leave you with that hint of foreboding as you make your way home from the show. Then the show’s over, and you’re rushed out the door into the night to wonder if you have enough cash left in your pockets to see and hear it all again.