TURN IT DOWN: A survey of Lansing’s musical landscape

By Rich Tupica

Haunting and howling: New album shows psychobilly bands songwriting chops

The Goddamn Gallows is more than your run-of-the-mill psychobilly band. The Lansing gang of punks may exert some traditional rockabilly customs, but after listening to the band’s new album, “Ghost of the Rails,” it’s abundantly clear these guys are darker and more lyrically thoughtful than most of their peers in the genre.

It’s refreshing when a band that draws influence from ‘50s country rockers steers clear of thin, digital recordings; and, recorded by White Stripes producer Jim Diamond in Detroit, “Ghost” is mixed perfectly into a warm blast of analog greatness.

The album opens with “Heaven,” an eerie and feverish tune that borders on Goth-inspired, black-metal stomp.

The band’s trademark, evil back-up vocals are showcased heavily on “Smoke Satan.” While Mikey Classic sings lead, Baby Genius (drums), Avery (washboard) and Fishgutz (stand-up bass) belt-out sinister back-up screams that could easily be the demented voices in your head telling you to “Do it.”

The jangly banjo riff that starts “Pass the Bottle” is the first slower tune on the album. It sounds as if it was written by a crew of drunken outlaws sitting around a campfire, until the chorus erupts into a galloping frenzy of country-punk.

The title track, “Ghost of the Rails,” is a perfect example of this band’s ability to write a song with an old soul, yet breathe new life into it with angst, aggression and passion.

A definite standout track on the CD is love-gone-wrong ballad “Wanders.” This heartbreaker chugs along like a locomotive on speed, with Classic delivering a punkedout Elvis croon. This song, as well as “Shattered,” showcases Classic’s honest lyrical style, which sets his band apart from other zombie-obsessed rockabilly acts.

Just when your ears become accustomed to ballads, “City of Hell” revamps the album with a jolt of thrash metal, while not straying far from the band’s punk sensibility.

The thrashing doesn’t last long, as “Under the Stars” slows things back down. While the band’s ability to rock out is enjoyable, after hearing the more sincere cuts on “Ghost of the Rails,” it seems the Gallows’ strong point is songwriting, which is easier to take-in when the songs are slowed a bit.

The album ends with “Ticket to Bleed,” a killer tune with oddness that would have made Screamin’ Jay Hawkins proud. With menacing cackles, blabbering and nonsensical ad-libbing, the band closes a brilliant record with a quirky song done tastefully, not an easy feat to accomplish.

Overall, this is a great album by a hard-working local band. There isn’t much gristle on this record. I have a hunch that what little there is there was left in to please those looking for a fun, psychobilly freak-out tune.

A word of advice for those who plan to pick up this album: crank up the loud-nfast tunes, but just be sure to listen a little closer to the slower, moodier ones.

Visit the band online at www.myspace.com/thegallowspdx.

The Goddamn Gallows

June 11. W/ Amino Acids (Detroit) Mac’s Bar, 2700 E. Michigan Ave.,
Lansing 8 p.m., $5, 18 (517) 484-6795 www.macsbar.com