Banditos’ self-titled debut is a rowdy, rollicking good time, a totally uninhibited collision course of Appalachian twang, rock ‘n’ roll swagger, blues throb, punk snarl and youthful inertia. And they’re some of Alabama’s own: the band’s six members came together on the street corners and in the open-mike dives of Birmingham before moving to Nashville, Tenn., for a shot at a record deal.
“The Breeze” immediately launches the record into a full-bodied stomp, with oscillating organ and cycling banjo fighting for breathing room amidst Randy Wade’s big, unpinned drumming. Three different band members – Cory Parsons, Stephen Pierce, and Mary Beth Richardson – take equally-adept turns at lead vocals throughout the album’s 12 songs, but the three’s warbling harmonies in the chorus of “The Breeze” creates a gritty, irresistible fourth voice.
Richardson takes lead vocal duties on “Waitin’,” hiccupping up her way through the chorus like vintage Buddy Holly and spitting lines with Bonnie Raitt’s frayed twang. Guitar and drum conspire for a bouncing one-two shuffle. The band halts mid-song for a bubbling, two-second banjo run, then spontaneously combusts into a vivid, intense guitar solo.
That’s not to say that every track here is a hot-stepping barnburner. Richardson channels both Etta James and the Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard on slow-building blues numbers “No Good” and “Old Ways,” stacking crescendo upon crescendo until their cumulative force pushes her into an impassioned, octave-leaping howl.
“Ain’t It Hard” delivers a lost-love lament over a subtle samba rhythm freckled with spikes of guitar and banjo. Richardson sings like she’s holding back tears while pulling on the trigger.
Banditos attack “Still Sober (After All These Beers)” with the visceral, DIY approach of Dr. Dog or fellow Alabama natives the Dexateens. The drums beat out a surf-rock rhythm reminiscent of Dick Dale and His Del-Tones’ 1962 hit “Misirlou” and the bass guitar torpedoes unflinchingly ahead, but amidst the chaos the restrained treble tones of Parsons’ guitar steps with the quiet dignity of Scotty Moore’s poised solos on Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Baby, Let’s Play House.”
“Long Gone, Anyway” disguises itself initially as a folky, Pete Seeger-esque sing-a-long before launching into an unrestrained kazoo solo, the instrument’s buzz tearing through the track with an unhinged earnestness evoking the saxophone eruption on X-Ray Spex’s 1977 manifesto “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” Album-closer “Preachin’ to the Choir” features a big ol’ wall of Crazy Horse-informed guitar feedback and the distant echoes of high, searing guitar tones.
“Cry Baby Cry,” one of the record’s highlights, is an unglued honky-tonk, a two-and-a-half minute catapult of ragtime piano and high-fret glissandos in maximum overdrive.
Each song boasts an eclectic weld of styles, but every joint is soldered tightly together throughout the record by the band’s palpable enthusiasm for making noise with each other, as well as by their collective sense of mischievous humor.
The exuberant “Can’t Get Away” is a scalawag’s serenade, a rough-hewn love poem to the object of his affection. Pierce’s narrator bumbles a bit at first, unsure of just how to say it but determined to try. It’s when he runs out of old and reliable platitudes (“You make the sun rise, and you make the moon shine”) that we really hear just what he’s got on his mind: “When I get home, you and me are gonna … cook.”

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