Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Royal Crowns remain kings of Canadian rockabilly

I sang on stage with the Bopcats at a show I snuck into 30 years ago, booked the Rock Angels into my high school two years later, have been drinking at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern for almost a quarter century and was a regular at the club's biannual Living Elvis Karaoke nights for several years. So I've felt at least a small connection with singer, songwriter, drummer and bartender Teddy Fury for about two-thirds of my life, and a big part of that has been because of The Royal Crowns.

Teddy Fury
I confess that I've let my devotion slide a bit over the past couple of years, but I couldn't miss The Royal Crowns' launch weekend for the new Volume Three at Toronto's Dakota Tavern. I'd been listening to the album for a few weeks and its rockabilly sounds -- with hints of surf, jump blues, country and jazz slipped in -- charmed me as much as when I first heard the group's 32 Miles From Memphis debut a dozen years ago.

Founding members Fury and singer/songwriter/guitarist Danny Bartley are still the heart of The Royal Crowns, and upright bassist Jason Adams has fit in well since joining two years ago. They aren't doing anything revolutionary on Volume Three -- which was produced, recorded and mixed by John Critchley (13 Engines, Elliott Brood, Dan Mangan) at his Green Door Studios in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood -- but sometimes I'd just rather dance than overthrow a government anyway.

Danny Bartley
There's something to be said for all 15 songs, and they spring to life wonderfully on stage. Bartley sure knows his way around a Gretsch, while Fury and Adams provide a solid rhythm behind him.

The intimate Dakota was sold-out both nights last weekend, and I was happy to catch up with other longtime Royal Crowns fans and former members at Saturday night's show. There were also two brides-to-be (decked out in cowboy hats with veils) and their pals on hand for the first of the evening's two sets, and I talked to other younger patrons who had no idea who the Crowns were but heard that the Dakota was the place to be that night -- and they didn't leave disappointed.

The performance was obviously weighted heavily in favour of Volume Three material, and with standouts like "Butterball Baby," "Could It Be," "Please Stop," "3 Dollar Cologne" and my favourite, "Johnny's Sister," there was no reason to complain. But some older gems from 32 Miles From Memphis and 2005's After Dark -- most notably (for me at least) "Caveman Boogie" and "Greasy Corpse" -- made it a well-rounded night on the town that I look forward to repeating again soon.

Jason Adams
Volume Three was just released and, with the 2012 Polaris Music Prize contender cut-off date being May 31, I've just found the last addition to my initial ballot to reward the best Canadian album of the year.

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