The Beagle Brothers' "Dancers of the Drunken Two-Step" reflects on time the band spent in California.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The last time out, the Beagle Brothers made a case for their neighborhood as the little Nashville of Pittsburgh with "Architects of the Bloomfield Sound."
Two years later, the twangy country band -- which harks back to the days of Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Buck Owens -- has emerged from the studio looking west with "Dancers of the Drunken Two-Step."
Where: Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville.
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
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"We've been referring to 'Dancers' as our California record," steel guitarist Read Connolly says. "We took a trip to California about two years ago, where we visited Bakersfield, the home of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, and stayed in Joshua Tree, specifically in the room at the Joshua Tree Inn where Gram Parsons died. Other than the spiritual/existential influences, you can imagine what a trip in the desert might bring, it was also a bonding experience for everyone with our country heroes."
The Beagles -- singer-guitarists Noah and Gabriel Smith, bassist Kyle Kline, guitarists Jeff Ritter, Sam Cooper and Mr. Connolly -- rollick and twang through 14 tracks, including "I Found Heaven in a Gram Parsons Song," "Sunny Californee" and "Dakota the Dancing Bear Part 3," a sequel to Kris Kristofferson's "Dakota (The Dancing Bear)" and David Allen Coe's long narrative "Dakota the Dancing Bear, Part II."
The Californee sound extends to the Beach Boys-style harmonies that appear on "Waimea Bay" and "My Other Car's a Hot Rod," songs contributed by Mr. Cooper.
"Sam wrote these songs with the big harmonies already in mind, pushing us to expand our normal two-part harmonies. Dino [DiStefano, the producer] also happens to have a hell of an ear, both for recording and for fixing what we record. Their influence pushed those songs, and the album overall, to places we never would have attempted on our own."
Capturing those harmonies and all those flowing guitars was a lot easier this time, as they weren't trying to do it in the Smith living room. Rather, the Beagle Brothers spent a December weekend at Red Caiman Studios, Downtown.
"The studio has three large rooms that have windows between them, so we could see each other perfectly," Mr. Connolly says. "Because of this, we were able to record the majority of the album live [and] we were able to create a bigger sound than we had on previous albums."
Along with the originals, the Beagle Brothers step up with covers of Warren Zevon's heroin ballad "Carmelita" and Skid Row, yes, Skid Row's "I Remember You."
"One of the not-so-secret secrets about the Beagle Brothers is that we love power ballads. Unabashedly love them," Mr. Connolly says. "We sometimes perform as the Beagle Balladeers, a rock band that exclusively covers power ballads. I'll admit that power ballads were not a part of my upbringing, but they were very influential for the rest of the guys -- and there's no denying that an entire set of lighter-waving sing-alongs is a crowd pleaser. With 'I Remember You,' we came up a country version that we all really liked."
With a Skid Row cover and a slicker sounding studio album -- which is packaged with "Architects" -- this could be the time for the Beagle Brothers to try to make a move beyond Bloomfield and the East End.
"We've still never toured," the guitarist says. "I thought we were making inroads recently when Pop City called us the 'Best County Band.' I thought, 'Have we finally broken out of the city, to be the best band in all of Allegheny County?' But about 30 minutes later, it turned out to be a spelling error, and they corrected it to 'Best Country Band.' Well, that's not such a bad accolade either."