Drunk Horse may be selling prefab FM classics to traditionally dirtball-averse indie rockers, but the Oakland foursome is sincere about its cock rock, penis pop, and ball boogie. Sincere about the riffs at least, if not the decidedly secondary lyrics. There’s nothing untraditional about that, though—Ian Gillan didn’t really mean “Space Truckin’ “, he just knew those idiotic words were funny and sounded cool. It’s true that leader Eli Eckert, not a dynamite frontman but more convincing than he was on 2003’s Adult Situations, tries to sing like a leather-vest-wearing bouncer from Billings but is in fact spindly, boyish, and currently short-haired. But that’s not irony; it’s just mild incongruity or attempted wish fulfillment. If anything, the Horse are too careful not to appear ironic—those secondary lyrics could use a good smart dumbing down.
Then again, if the Hold Steady can keep 2005’s recovering-Catholic-punks-in-favor-of-’70s-rock movement alive through the fall, Drunk Horse are in luck with In Tongues, which features the songs “Vatican Shuffle” and “Priestmaker” (I confess: It kicks ass). The band still draws on garage, protopunk, and the Stones, but this album’s polestars are Deep Purple mark II, ZZ Top, Zeppelin, and Skynyrd, plus a touch of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Of course, those who chase virtuosos invite unflattering comparisons, and while Drunk Horse play better than most indie bands, they don’t, you know, have Ritchie Blackmore in the group. (If they did they’d be dressing like Chaucer and singing about dragons or whatever, but . . . ) They do have the riffs and the propulsion, though. Audition them on 8-track in a muscle car at high speed and volume after a few shots, and you won’t care that they’re not quite there yet.
Or you could listen to new ’70s-style rock by actual classic rockers, or at least their younger brothers—a dicey proposition, but ideal for authenticity buffs. Van Zant are Donnie from 38 Special and Johnny from Lynyrd Skynyrd. They’ve gone country by standing in place, country having sainted older bro Ronnie years ago. Van Zant neither seriously disappoint nor give Travis Tritt and Montgomery Gentry a real wake-up call, but their single “Help Somebody” is a great mid-tempo ballad for sentimental down-home born-again 12-steppers, sung with prime Jacksonville soul and gospel singers chipping in at the end. “Get right with the man!” the brothers urge, all gutbucket and brimstone. No way, fellas, I don’t believe in God; but it’s all right, I believe you.