CD Review of Frontier Days by The Del-Lords
The Del-Lords: Frontier Days
Recommended if you like
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American Beat Records
The Del-Lords: Frontier Days

Reviewed by Carlos Ramirez

ccording to the new liner notes to this reissue of Frontier Days, the debut album from The Del-Lords, rock ‘n roll was pretty much dead by 1980. Thinking back, founding member and guitarist/vocalist Scott Kempner wasn’t that off the mark with that sentiment. By the time Frontier Days was actually released (1984), the heavily synthesized pop sounds of Michael Jackson and Eurythmics had already taken over the mainstream. That’s what made the Del-Lords’ bare-bones combination of rockabilly, roots rock, and garage rock stand out so much back then. It’s also probably why they never truly found a large audience.

Formed out the ashes of the Dictators (Kempner) Joan Jett’s Blackhearts band (Eric "Roscoe" Ambel) plus future Cracker drummer Frank Funaro and bassist Manny Caiati, the Del-Lords were based out of NYC and quickly got a deal with Enigma Records, who at the time were aligned with EMI Records. Frontier Days gets off to a high-energy start with the opening punch of "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live." The twang in the twin-guitar attack is on full display while the vocal melodies are instantly memorable, bringing to mind the work of bands from the British pub rock era.

Like any solid outfit playing this kind of stuff, the Del-Lords keep their arrangements tight and economic with the vocals and guitars front and center. "Livin’ on Love" and "I Play the Drums" are the kinds of blue collar rockers one would imagine being cranked out an old VFW hall somewhere in Delaware circa 1965. Kempner probably wrote these songs with the stage in mind and the immediacy in the band’s delivery proves that. Even the four bonus tracks included here pulse with same kind of fevered energy as the rest of the songs from the original sessions.

Lou Whitney’s crystalline mix was an ill-fated choice of production style, and ultimately lets the material down. A better move would have been getting someone like Chris D. (The Flesheaters) behind the boards to focus on the grittiness in their performances. Maybe the stiffs at their parent label were hoping for some rock radio support. After all, the Stray Cats had a few hits. It’s a shame, really, because both Kempner and Ambel crank out one spirited riff after the other, but Whitney doesn’t supply the bottom end to support them.

Production misses aside, the Del-Lords did supply enough hooks and muscle in their delivery to make this reissue a worthy purchase. The folks at Rolling Stone gave Frontier Days a glowing four-star review while legendary rock critic Robert Chirstgau raved about in the Trouser Press. While Bullz-Eye won’t go that far in its praises for it, in the end the album’s back-to-basics charm still resonates all of these years later.

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