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Rum Drum Ramblers 

Mean Scene
Lightnin' Thunders

The backward-glancing trio Rum Drum Ramblers is most commonly thought of as a blues band, and certainly, the young men in the group seek to revive a certain strand of acoustic, prewar blues music. But after listening to its second album, Mean Scene, one could argue that the Ramblers is a soul band; just listen for a few minutes to guitarist and singer Mat Wilson's sweet, husky voice and feel the easy rhythm of the best early R&B singers. Or perhaps it's best to describe it as a country act: There's so much twang-bangin' and swift-pickin' on "Nothin' New" that Buck Owens is probably tipping his ten-gallon hat to these fellows from the great beyond. But then, terming the Rum Drum Ramblers as country (or blues or soul) would ignore the jazzy underpinnings that Joey Glynn pumps out of his sonorous upright bass and the forceful blowing of its guest horn players. Better yet to put genre tags aside and let the Ramblers interpretation of American folk idioms fan you like a humid breeze.

It's easy to pair the Ramblers with the similarly styled Pokey LaFarge — after all, Glynn and harmonica player Ryan Koenig make up two-thirds of LaFarge's South City Three. But where LaFarge is a passionate performer, he is never ruffled; his gentlemanly demeanor doesn't allow for it. The Ramblers don't mind if a little sawdust gets mixed in with its whiskey, and that looseness spreads a freewheeling flavor over the dozen tracks on Scene. Trash-can percussion and second-line horns adorn the lazy shuffle of "Get Behind the Wheel," and the electric fuzz of "All the Little Days" proves that the band doesn't play it straight even when plugged in. In fact, the only constant across these songs is that Wilson's intuitive guitar playing — bluesy, jazzy, soulful and twangy — is tough to pin down. He's a stylist who has ingested decades' worth of popular (and unpopular) music, and he and his equally flexible bandmates spit these influences back out in familiar but thrilling fashion.

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April 1, 2020

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