Album Review: Dan Sartain, Lives

In the early 2000s, as many remember, there was much ballyhoo about the return of real rock-n-roll. This was not represented in bands like Queens of the Stone Age (which is real rock to me, but not to many others. Too muscular, maybe? I don’t know), but bare bones garage rock bands like The Hives and The White Stripes. While these bands are awesome, they were only the headliners. As with any movement, there is always a subset that does not necessarily make it to mainstream attention, much to their detriment. While, in most situations, this would suggest that they were not as important (read: good), Birmingham, AL- based Dan Sartain serves as a very real exception to this rule.

On his grind since 2001 when he was self-releasing records, Dan Sartain is an exemplar of the garage rock revival movement. Starting with his first commercially available record Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes, Sartain has always retained the swing of rockabilly while merging it with the bratty swagger of garage rock and the stomp of the blues. His albums have always been compelling and always offer quality return listens. His 2010 release Dan Sartain Lives does not stray from this formula.From beginning to end, Dan Sartain Lives is a classic garage album. From the first track, the listener knows what they will be in for: lots of guitar muscle, tons of heavy bass drum kicks, snappy lyrics, a ton of reverb, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Upon first listen, I was struck by how retro the album sounded, even in comparison to his earlier work. The reason for this, I found, is that the album was produced by Liam Watson, the same man who created the same type of sound for The White Stripes. While a lot of bands cannot necessarily get away with such a retro sound, it fits Dan Sartain well. When one listens to songs like ” Bohemian Groove” or “Anything I Say,” it is impossible to imagine the songs sounding any other way. The analog warmth suits them particularly well, capturing the reverb on his guitar, the thundering bass lines, and the manic drumming. His voice has heart and soul, two things that every garage rock fan, this one included, wants out of their lead wailer.

As well, Sartain shows a surprising amount of diversity in his sound. There are straight-ahead rockers like “Walk Among The Cobras” (a continuation from the trilogy on Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes), “Bohemian Grove,” and “Atheist Funeral.” There are slower tracks like “Ruby Carol,” which has a very country/western feeling with its sauntering bass line and acoustic strum. There’s even some surf guitar sounds with “Bad Things Will Happen.” If this weren’t all enough, Sartain seals the deal by covering “Voo Doo” from Chris Isaak’s debut Silvertone. He does an amazing job with it as Sartain made a rather slow, sensual song into a straight juke joint stomp with heavy drumming and muscular guitar. Although he’ll never win a singing contest against Isaak, Sartain’s version makes me want to dance unlike Isaak’s.

Clocking in at a perfect garage album length of 30 minutes, Dan Sartain Lives is an album that both connects itself to many different musical movements while being a part of none of them. Sartain’s sound is singular and focused. As well, although the album is short, it does not overstay its welcome at all. It ends on top. More importantly, he stayed true to his roots and didn’t attempt to cross over in pursuit of fame like The Gossip.

Even though he has been popular in the UK much like The Gossip, Dan Sartain Lives could be Sartain’s breakthrough into the consciousness of the indie population and tastemakers of America, putting him into the same category as the duo White. If Dan Sartain was dead, I want to be the first to shake his hand and welcome him back to the world of the living. I just hope he doesn’t eat my brain and keeps putting out material like this.