On the road with the Spanic Boys

The Spanic Boys: Strange World


To hear a description of the Spanic Boys—a father and son duo from Milwaukee, two guys who have probably shopped in the husky department all their lives—does not necessarily inspire rock ‘n roll confidence. To hear them play is a whole other matter.

We saw them on Letterman back when Strange World came out in 1991. We immediately went out and bought the album. Had it been vinyl, we would have worn it out—that’s how much we played it.

But as with anything you play that much, sooner or later you stop. You start passing it by as you scan the CD rack. Then you just kind of stop seeing it. Lucky for me, Marion did see it when we took a quick road trip this weekend. We were somewhere in Indiana or Michigan when she popped it into the car’s CD slot unannounced, and this amazing music came flooding back into our lives.

It was perfect road music. Twangy guitars, tight vocal harmonies and lyrics about life, love and loss and working it out. Only not as cornball as that may or may not sound—it all felt and sounded real. Like in the song I’m All You Need, we hear someone trying to break through the walls we all build in self defense:
You’ve had to do it on your own for, oh, so many years.
I’ve come along, I did my best at beating back your fears.

For all the hints of rockabilly, the Everly Brothers and the Byrds and a bunch of other influences [and despite the fact that the disk is now 16 years old], it sounded as timely and timeless as when we’d first heard it. None of the looking back, ironically or otherwise, you get with the Stray Cats, say, or Chris Isaak.This is American roots music at its most original and best.

For a change, I seem to be on the same page as the critics. Vintage Guitar Magazine said of their music, “…as rootsy as their sound is, the Spanics are nothing if not original and contemporary.” David Wild at Rolling Stone magazine went further, saying, “Their songs are not museum pieces, they are startling, infectious pieces of contemporary rock that show just how much can be accomplished with just two voices, two guitars and a crack rhythm section.”

In case you’re wondering how a father and son teamed up to make such impressive music, their website tells the entire sometimes quirky story.

spanic-boys_sunshine.jpgFather Tom and son Ian are not exactly what you’d call prolific albumwise. Admittedly, they’d kind of fallen off our radar screens, but as we listened to them this weekend we were worried that they were no longer playing music. So I was delighted to find a brand new album at Amazon, Sunshine. From the samples I heard, it may come along on some future road trip.

By the way, you can now download entire albums or individual tracks at Amazon [individual songs from this disk are just 89¢]. Am I the last person to figure this out?


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