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The Iron Range Outlaw Brigade is perhaps one the most aptly named bands in the area. They’ve stayed true to their persona with their old school style country punk. From the twangy pedal steel guitar, the gritty vocals and lyrics that often hinge on the subjects of drinking, shooting people, working and living hard up North, there’s no band quite like IROB up here. They have captured something that is unique and does indeed at times reflect the area.
IROB has released a number of albums over the years, but this seems to be the culmination of everything they’ve been doing. With 16 tracks they lay out the world of the Iron Range Outlaw Brigade. Musically, it’s like a forgotten country rock band from the 50s or 60s that pushed things a little farther than Merle Haggard, Hank Williams or Johnny Cash but stops short of being quite as hard as psychobilly bands like Tiger Army or Reverend Horton Heat.
While some might view topics like alcoholism and murder to be kind of heavy, it’s obvious that these subjects are dealt with in a somewhat tongue in cheek manner in their music. Think Johnny Cash singing about doing cocaine, shooting his woman and running from the law or Dr. Dre rapping about shooting someone who crossed him in the 90s. There is a certain fascination with the violent lifestyles of criminals, although it’s often more acceptable when it’s in the form of country music for some reason. It’s larger than life and that’s what makes it fun to listen to.
The album opens up with an intro which brings in what could be the opening song to a cheesy western movie. Whistling, trumpet, horse noise samples over a simple country-western guitar riff opens the album. The spectrum of time eras this album covers is from the mid to late 1800s to perhaps the 70s. The track after the intro is titled “Blood on the Saddle” and it’s about a guy riding motorcycles, gambling and shooting people. “There was blood on the saddle/there was blood on the ground/another man dead and another man gone,” goes the chorus. This leads right into the song “Shotgun,” which opens with “Shotgun Shotgun/Yeah, I shot them bastards down/I have blood on my hands when their bodies hit the ground.” The songs are lively and upbeat as are most of the tracks on the album. Of course they are also filled with violence and disfunction. In that sense the album is not boring.
There are a couple of traditional songs on the album and they flow back to back. The tracks “Glendale Train” and “Jesse James” are renditions of old time classic songs that have been played by many a country band over the years. They detail a train robbery and the demise of the infamous outlaw, Jesse James. “Jesse James” is a fairly hard driving punk rock version of “The Ballad of Jesse James” as it’s commonly known.
The Iron Range Outlaw Brigade often brings up some references to this area in their music. The track “Big Ol’ Truck” is a good example of that. “Give me a big ugly ‘E’ boys!,” yells Kirk Kjenass to start off the song. “My daddy was a miner and I’m a miner’s son/Punching that clock and getting shit done…Big ol’ truck in a big ol’ mine/Working hard/Working overtime/Big ol’ coming on down the line,” goes a part of the verse and chorus. The song is complete with some bass solos laid down by Fred Hanson, hard driving beats by Glen Mattson, raw vocal harmonies that involve the whole band and swirling pedal steel melodies by John Peterson deliver an exciting full on outlaw country experience.
IROB’s past albums have often brought out some of the area’s heritage. As far as the Iron Range goes, it was, and is, an area that has been supported by mining. The inside of album shows an illustration by Emily Herb of old time miners posing with picks and shovels. The front of the album shows an old time steam engine. Perhaps this is a reference to the Jesse James songs but the train appears to be hauling ore cars, a means of transporting goods that goes up to this day. The album was also recorded up at Sparta Sound, which lies right around the Iron Range.
Rich Mattson from Sparta Sound recorded and mixed this album and if you have read my reviews, he should be a familiar name. This recording is a little raw, but every recording I’ve received from IROB has been a little on the raw side. This is not knocking them at all. This music isn’t some fancy electro-pop new age album with shimmering over-produced vocals and instruments. In the spirit of making an old time feeling country album that has a definite edge of punk, the recording is exactly what it should be. If the album was somehow pretty and produced to perfection, it would detract from its overall feel.
Iron Range Outlaw Brigade has once again shown what they’re all about. No, they don’t kill people, they just sing about it. If music genres like rock-a-billy, old time country, psychobilly and punk appeal to you, then IROB has nailed it again with this album. If you dislike the old country legends that sing about drinking, hard knocks and getting in trouble with the law, then this album probably won’t be up your alley.
IROB will be celebrating this album’s release on Friday, July 24 at the Red Star Lounge in the Fitger’s complex along with the bands 7 Step and Xerxes Palomino. The show is 21+, starts after 9 p.m. and is free.