Fat hasn’t been releasing many new bands lately. Thus, when they do expand the roster for a debut, it draws some attention. Guts n’Teeth comes from the eight-piece California band Old Man Markley, named after washboard player Ryan Markley who, in truth, is quite young. Other members have been/are in bands such as Youth Brigade and Angel City Outcasts. But prelim aside, what about the band? Well, they play a punk-bluegrass hybrid with a lot of instruments, primarily in the string family. It’s not twangy cowpunk, but a different breed altogether.
The band has some traditional roots, but their primary sound is a caffeinated bluegrass akin to bands like Flogging Molly or Less Than Jake, who have taken an older style of music and given it a punk rock makeover. From the getgo with “For Better For Worse,” the band makes it clear that they like to play fast, and the vocals even have a bit of a Dave King and Fat Mike vibe to them and some gang “hey hey heys” thrown in to get the point across. A few cracks and pops would give the record a more classic feel, as the crisp production gives a distinct studio feel that accentuates some of the hokiness, especially when the gang vocals kick in on select choruses.
Lyrically the band is less hokey. They explore traditional country and punk themes with sincerity. While the lyrics are heartfelt and devoid of kitschiness, they tend to drop a lot of awkwardly blunt metaphors, like “I’m left all alone with a cup of morning sorrow/ You’re the best part of my day,” to express the love’s longing. To use the old writing cliché, they could stand more of a “show don’t tell” approach.
The band is at their best when they slow it down, de-emphasizing their punk roots and instead relying on stripped down, raw emotion as in the titular track—a somber ditty that’s all heart, and serves as the most memorable song. “After all, underneath, we’re all just guts and teeth,” they reflect over minimal instrumentation and well-placed harmonies. Similarly, “Living and Learning” is another ballad built around Johnny Carey vocals and that all he’s got is “a bottle of Jack and ten bucks in my pocket.” It’s a track where the emotional content shines through, blending the personal lament of classic country with the boozy excess of, well, classic country as well as punk rock.
The record is definitely something different and it’s interesting—if for that reason alone. The mix of styles doesn’t play to my tastes, feeling more like bluegrass that’s fast for the sake of being fast. The many-member band comes across as a party in action—one that is no doubt having a lot of fun when they’re onstage, but the studio reproduction doesn’t convey the same depth.
6.4 / 10
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