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Early Rock and Roll Sounds from a Modern Rock Band: The Detroit Cobras Remind Us Why Rock and Roll Caught On Originally
There are a few bands I've listened to in the past that I've actually had to do a double take a confirm that they are indeed from modern times and not from back in the 50s or 60s. Back when I was first discovering the Detroit garage rock scene and bands like the White Stripes, I came across the Detroit Cobras, also from that same scene. This band was one of those double take bands from the very first listen, especially because the first track I ever heard by them was a live track probably recorded as a bootleg from a seedy bar gig. They may not be from the 50s or 60s, but they sure have that early rock and roll and R&B sound nailed, while still adding their own style and grit to make them more than just another garage rock revival band.
The Detroit Cobras songs are almost entirely early rock and roll and R&B covers, which certainly adds to the feel that they are from that era, but they are done with a rough edge and gritty, soulful energy. Definitely a set of songs that a not remembered by more casual music collectors, they maintain the distinct vintage groove throughout, often right down to the "Sha La Las" that are such a trademark of 50s and 60s R&B. This does give them a bit of a vintage, yet timeless quality that is definitely parts of their charm, but their own rough edged style makes these songs sound straight from the heart and not sound too much like covers at all.
The group definitely stands out as more than just a cover band, because of their rough edge style and swagger that makes them sound like the gritty rock band that probably existed in every bar during the late 50s and early 60s. Their sound reminds me a lot of that of the Sonics some 40 years earlier, with their fuzzy pushed guitars and some of the energy that would become a staple of early punk. They are a bit more fun and lighthearted though than the Sonics ever were, but definitely still have the tough attitude and raw style. If you're unfamiliar with the Sonics, then I guess the early Rolling Stones or better yet, the early Yardbirds live, minus the rave ups, any blues influence, advanced guitar work... and well, Keith Relf... is a good indication of their sound. It's that great early rough edged, smoky but dance-able rock and roll sound that spurred on the genre initially. The Detroit Cobras have a bit more R&B flair, style and soul it seems than the Yardbirds ever did, and of course, neither the Yardbirds nor the Sonics had a soulful female vocalist driving their songs so these aren't really a fair comparisons.
Still, had the Detroit Cobras been around back then, they probably would have seemed right at home sharing a stage with some of these early rockers.
The highlight of this band really is the soulful vocals of Rachel Nagy, who sounds very comfortable with these songs and style, pushing them with a soulful, wail that seems to echo some of the grit of the guitar leads with soul and smoke. She is booming and powerful, but also subtly restrained, never quite coming full out in a sort of Janis Joplin soul explosion. I think this works well with these songs as anything more would seem more over the top and less in line with the lean yet gritty style of the band that works so well with their songs.
In recent years, the band has had a changing lineup a few times and has released their third and forth albums, both of which remained true to their original spirit, but also expanded their sound to include a slightly lighter feel, with less of the raw hard edge of their earlier work, but only slightly. Their raunchy and fun rock and roll spirit definitely still comes through as powerful as ever from what I've heard so far and I'm looking forward to hearing more from their newest release.
Overall, their sound seems to lend itself perfectly to a great live show, full of fun that is almost infectious, with enough grit and rebellious spirit.
Few bands can come off sounding so authentically retro without sounding like a rehash, but the Detroit Cobras really pull it off so well that you will surely be reminded why rock and roll caught on in the first place.
Great band... definitely worth checking out.
Check out the Detroit Cobras Homepage here: http://www.detroitcobras.org/
You can also take a listen to some of the band's more recent tracks here at the Detroit Cobras Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/thedetroitcobras