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The Dustbowl Revival find the sweet spot between swing and soul 

click to enlarge “There’s definitely an accidental ska thing going on there.” - TALLEY MEDIA
  • Talley Media
  • “There’s definitely an accidental ska thing going on there.”
There are any number of ways to navigate your way from Dixieland-influenced Americana to ska-tinged soul, but probably the easiest is to hire Flogging Molly co-founder Ted Hutt to produce your record. It’s a strategy that worked well for The Dustbowl Revival’s self-titled album last year, especially on the standout track “Gonna Fix You,” which boasts a brass-driven arrangement that’s more early Dexys Midnight Runners and Black 47 than it is Paper Bird or Pokey LaFarge.

“Songs kind of evolve as you write, rehearse and play them live,” says bandleader Zach Lupetin of the tongue-in-cheek, love-gone-wrong song. “It started out being more quiet and introspective, and once we got Ted Hutt in there, he was like, ‘No, no, this song needs to be more fun and upbeat. Let’s get some hand claps and a little more of a driving drumbeat.’ And it went on to become the song that would lift our spirits every time we play it onstage.”

Traces of Northern Soul and Southern R&B slip into the mix elsewhere as well. “Our trumpet player Matt Rubin, who does a lot of the horn arrangements, is a big student of a lot of the traditional soul stuff,” says Lupetin. “I also like early No Doubt, who made some of my favorite music growing up. And since Ted Hutt produced some of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ big hits back in the day, there’s definitely an accidental ska thing going on there.”

A Chicago native who relocated to L.A. hoping for success as a playwright and screenwriter, Lupetin instead found his music career taking off. What began a decade ago as a small string band has since evolved into an eight-piece outfit that includes co-vocalist Liz Beebe, fiddler Connor Vance, mandolin player Daniel Mark, drummer Josh Heffernan, bassist James Klopfleisch, trumpeter Matt Rubin, and trombonist Ulf Bjorlin.

“I would say we’re kind of a slow burn group,” notes Lupetin. “We started out playing the L.A. swing-dance scene. People would get dressed up like it was the 1930s and have a fun night out, and they were really nice to us. So we were more strictly old-time back then, mixing the string band and brass band traditions. And then, with the last few albums, I think we’ve really found our own thing, which is this sort of roots-soul mashup.”

But while The Dustbowl Revival may have drifted away from clarinets and kazoos, there’s still a healthy eclecticism that draws upon the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw big band recordings Lupetin grew up hearing his grandparents play, the western swing of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, and the Fleetwood Mac albums that served as an inspiration for his and Beebe’s vocal harmonies.

Genre boundaries, after all, are meant to be broken. “Seeing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band touring with Del McCoury about a decade ago was a big light bulb moment for me,” says Lupetin. “Hearing the twang of his voice singing New Orleans songs, and then hearing the brass play on these sort of bluegrass songs, it just felt so unique. Sort of like a lost genre that never got to happen.”

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