King of the Tramps
Todd Partridge sent me King of the Tramps’ 2016 release, Complir con el Diablo, for review the day after the 2016 presidential election, and it included a note that said, “It’s an apolitical protest and love record perfect for a day like today.”
The Tramps’ latest album, Wild Water, returns with the southern rock-influenced formula the band is known for — dual Allman Brothers-style guitar leads, searing slide, driving drums and lots of groove. Partridge draws from his small town Iowa experiences, yet delivers songs I think can resonate with anyone. But, while I wouldn’t call Wild Water a political record per se, it’s clear that Partridge has had some hot button issues on his mind.
Track three, “Smoke ’Em,” includes the perspective of the 99 percent: “Got both ends fightin’ just to get to the middle; red state blue state/it’s your ass on the griddle/poor is poor no matter where you come from” sung over the top of an Exile On Main Street-esque riff.
But the real message song here is a cover of the Mann/Weill/Russell track “None of Us Are Free,” originally covered by Ray Charles but perhaps more famously by Solomon Burke. “None of us are free/None of us are free/None of us are free, if one of us are chained/None of us are free.” Amen.
Lest we think that Partridge and band have consigned to political pulpit pounding, they include “Just Dance” a four-on-the-floor anthemic stomper that delivers the clarion call to “dance and let the worlds collide” and (in the non-radio friendly version) “Fuck it! Just Dance.” Sage advice.
“Byron’s Boogie” is a tribute to his regular roost, Byron’s in Pomeroy, Iowa — possibly the coolest bar in a small town anywhere. A bunch of Iowa bands and Iowa regulars get called out: “We got Brother Trucker, Kevin Gordon, Joe and Vicki Price/Studebaker John, baby play the blues nice/Kelly Richey, David Zollo, Jon Dee Graham/Doing the Byron’s Boogie/Doing the Byron’s Boogie.”
King of the Tramps continue to do what they do best: translating their stories into floor-shaking rock and blues, delivering it as gospel to the masses. Partridge is still writing about love, but for Wild Water, his protests are now political, and that’s gospel, too.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 249.