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The Starkweathers

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Though largely unknown, Kansas City’s Starkweathers were among the best ND bands around. As fans of both Merle Haggard and Joe Strummer, frontman Rich Smith and bassist Mike Ireland sang unironically, in gorgeous Louvin Brothers-styled harmonies, about the lives and loves of America’s dispossessed. At their finest – Ireland’s mournful “Danny Taylor” from their Faye Records 5-Song EP, or Smith’s prayerful “Little White Trash Boy” on Bloodshot’s Hellbent compilation –the Starkweathers combined a lefty vision with an unabashedly twangy rock ‘n’ roll.

This posthumous single is no exception. The mighty fine A-side has Smith preaching a sermon against greedy churches. (“You don’t get no help from the Lord if you can’t pay the rent”) to a melody and riff that put me in mind of a particularly pissed holy roller backed by a shitfaced Dan Rich. But the flip-side’s even better. Sounding raw and alone, like he’s lost deep in the Ozark hills, Ireland sings the first lines a cappella before Smith, drummer Paul Lemon and guitarist Mike Lemon (on lap steel) join in to flesh out this archetypal tale. The song, about a lonely man who forever wanders in search of something he gave up but can now never get back, recalls nothing so much as the Stanley Brothers’ “Rank Strangers.”

The bad news is that the Starkweathers have broken up, the victim of internal treacheries that spat in the face of what the band stood for. The good news is that the best part of the Starkweathers spirit will carry on, as Ireland and the Lemon Brothers start fresh. After this single, they have a lot to live up to.

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