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How much can one fan of OKOM (Our Kind Of Music) accomplish in just a couple of years? Plenty, if it's Rockzilla, aka photographer Michael Johnson. From 2003 to 2005, rockzilla.net was a chronicle of the alt.country scene from a uniquely Texan perspective. But all good things must end, and Rockzilla has retired from the online 'zine scene.

This mirror site was copied from the rockzilla.net site with the express permission of Rockzilla hisself. If you don't believe me, go to the KHYI-Fans email list and ask him! Buddy will back me up, too.


 

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 Shining a light upon music that matters

 

Billy Dee
When the Vow Breaks
Country Mile Records
By Danté Dominick

Every now and again you can judge a book by its cover -- or a musician by the hat he wears. Billy Dee is a barrel-chested, barrel-bellied, bearded man in black with scuffed shit-kickers and a pristine hat. Even if you're visual-clue impaired, the cover of When the Vow Breaks won't be lost on you...expect nothing but '60s ­ '70s era AM country at its absolute truest and best. The cover's layout and design perfectly mimics a full LP cover of that era: colored border around the picture, the songs listed in a banner on the cover, "mono/stereo" at the top and the bonus dot advertising the hit single and guest artists. The back cover is the paired LP back, complete with track listing for Side One and Side Two. This ain't for show. The is the music and spirit Billy Dee and his cohorts live, breathe and drink day in/day out.

Where to start with Dee's music? Easy: that voice. His sturdy stature might give it away, but even if you're prepared, his power still demands your undivided attention...and thankfully so; such a rich, deep, booming baritone is hard to come by. Think of Johnny Cash's register with George Jones' suave singing voice. His soul oozes it and his voice does not betray: this is classic country. If only he would unleash his grizzly bear power on today's pretty hat-acts, the world would be a far better place.

True to your classic country LP, there are a couple songs that are off the meter in their sappiness. On the whole though, When the Vow Breaks is well balanced between two-stepping shuffle and western-swing swing. You guessed it: tear jerking heartbreaks reign supreme, complete with incredibly clever twists and word play. But back to the western swing side of things, Dee is very likely the greatest electric bass player in country history...the Jaco Pastorius of country if you will. Although this aspect of his music definitely comes out more during the live set.

Friend and fellow Austinite Redd Volkaert produced the album and also plays all the guitars. Volkaert, who can get Mary Lou Retton on the six-string and could steal the show from a recently-returned-from-the-dead Jimi Hendrix, comfortably slides to the supporting role, smartly keeping his near-sickening virtuosity in check to better let his part complete the better whole. Ditto for Ricky Davis, arguably this town's most exciting pedal steel player. Floyd Domino is on board with the keys on nearly half the tracks and Jason Roberts lends his fiddle to three of them.

Of the thirteen cuts, all are originals but one. Johnny Paycheck's hit, "Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised)," is the exception and the cover is handled so perfectly, it makes one wonder how so many covers can go so wrong. There is no attempt to create a whole new life for something already so loved; instead it takes the life and gives it fresh breath. Dale Watson and Ray Benson join Dee on the vocals, each taking turns on the verses and hitting it all together at the perfect spots of the chorus. It's a hell of a lot of fun, that's for certain.

Finishing out the album is an oddball cut, "That Memory of Mine." Domino switches to B-3 organ. The trippy intro makes you think the CD changer has moved on to the next disc, but alas, here we have a grand acid-country song -- if that's a genre that even exists. There's even echo on Dee's vocals. I'm surprised I like it, but I really do.

What I'm not surprised about is how much I like the whole album. And I wouldn't be surprised if some big name country artist with a hat he doesn't adequately represent picks up one of Dee's songs and makes a gold record out of it.

www.billyfdee.com

Contact Dante Dominick at  dominick-at-rockzilla.net

 

 
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