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Native Tongue ‘Frozen' in '60s-'70s Rock

by Art Edelstein

Published October 7, 2010 in the Times Argus

The Barre-based bar band Native Tongue has released its first CD “Frozen” and it's a winner. This quintet of musicians in their 40s and 30s has produced a 10-track album of their own material that creates a wall of sound from the opening bars of “Déjà Vu” to the final fade-out of “Poor Little Rich Girl.” If you can't dance and party to this album you're probably stuck in cement.

Native Tongue is comprised of Bob Nelson, lead vocals; Todd Wells on bass and vocals; Thomas Powers, lead guitars and vocals; Rob Boisvert drums, vocals and percussion; and Mike Stridsberg on rhythm guitar, keyboard and harmonica.

Together this band has managed to channel a pantheon of great musicians, primarily from the 1960s and 1970s, evoking one of the most creative eras in rock music. In their material and these performances we hear allusions to the British power trio Cream, southern-rockers The Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band, and the Robert Cray Band. The connections are best expressed in Nelson's vocals and the lead guitar work of Powers.

Nelson sings with power but avoids being shrill. While there's no Southern drawl in his delivery, his vocal approach produces similar cadences to the Southern rock sound that was the Allman and Marshall Tucker Band. But his voice is malleable enough to give hints of Jack Bruce from Cream and the aforementioned blues singer-guitarist Cray.

Powers is a great guitarist. He uses a lot of sustain and string-bending techniques on his electric guitar, but also manages to evoke several legendary guitar slingers like Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Eric Clapton and Cray in his playing. His soaring lead lines give the band a very authentic sound, one that would not be out of place in 1973 on an ample concert stage.

Supporting these two fine musicians are Wells, Boisvert and Stridsberg. They are equally adept in their rhythm parts. Wells and Boisvert are a beat-perfect rhythm section and I especially like the attention to the bass guitar in the mix. Stridsberg fills in several important spots in the musical landscape.

Nelson, who also owns Nelson Hardware in Barre, said the core four members (Stridsberg joined four years ago) have been together as an active bar band for 15 years. They have been entertaining audiences mostly at central Vermont venues like Gusto's in Barre, as well as the American Legion, Barre Country Club, and the Elks. You may have seen them in a Barre homecoming dance where they've performed the past several years.

“We haven't played big venues but have played as a cover band in central Vermont, and haven't gotten into the saturated Burlington market,” said Nelson. He bemoans the lack of places for bands like his to play. “The pickings are tough for bar bands. There is not much in central Vermont if you want live music.”

This first CD was recorded in Winooski and Fairfield and produced by the band. Nelson said there are not a lot of overdubs of the material but the album is not a live recording either.

“The music was inside us and it had to come out somehow,” said Nelson. “We had the feeling we had something going and wanted to tackle an album.” As a result the band took a six months hiatus from performing to write songs and record.

Native Tongue has a vast performance list of over 200 songs but decided not to record any of the cover versions. This was a wise decision as cover songs rarely match the originals in quality. By recording its own material the band shows what it can do when it isn't being an imitator.

This album could well put Native Tongue on the map, musically speaking. The tracks are fast-paced, flawlessly performed and cleanly mixed. If there is any weakness it's the lyrics. I found some of the wording hackneyed or poorly rhymed. The cleverest song, “She Kicks My Ass,” doesn't have the verbal hook it deserves. But this is a minor flaw.

You won't be playing “Frozen” for its Dylan-like metaphors, deep intellectual messages or florid language. You'll want to have room to move about and an ample supply of cold brews nearby as you listen to this CD.

Native Tongue's next live performance is Dec. 10 at Gusto's in Barre.