To say that Kris Rodgers plays standard piano rock is to say he’s outside the current mainstream. It’s been a long time since standing up and pounding on a piano and belting out lyrics has been much of a thing.
But Elton John is still going strong doing arena shows, and there’s little doubt that there remains a time and a place for what Rodgers is doing on Headlines, his third release (not including the Christmas album, which you should include). Sure, the genre-rock that he and his Dirty Gems purvey can sometimes sound a cut from the Cars soundtrack—but, hey, that’s a pretty kick-ass soundtrack.
And in an era where pop-punk has turned into kids with dyed hair and piercings singing falsetto over acoustic guitar ballads, it can be nice to get a full-sounding band firing through a song like “Up from the Ashes,” with hints of Meatloaf and Chuck Berry.
Like pals Kurt Baker, Geoff Useless, and Wyatt Funderburk, all of whom had a hand here, Rodgers is steeped in classic rock-pop songwriting. Most of the eight songs here are familiar on first listen.
“You Don’t Know” is every jaunty piano ballad ever, until Tom Yoder’s fiddle creeps in from channel to channel late in the song and a chorus of harmonies joins Rodgers for the chorus. “No Complaints” has some southern swagger to it and plenty of blues riffs, then brings in spacey keyboards to echo Spencer Albee’s early solo output. “Keep on Knocking” is crazy catchy, with a serious forward lean and a big guitar solo right out of the gate: “Now you’re back for more / And I forgot your name.”
He’s not the storyteller that Craig Finn is, but Rodgers can do a fair imitation of the Hold Steady every once in a while. “Borrowed Time” is just the kind of finisher they’d pull out, a big, expansive ballad “where we can see, but we can’t seem to find.” And when Rodgers comes in for one last coda it’s with phrases tossed out over echoing backing vocals.
If you heard these tunes on ’BLM, you’d wonder how you missed them the first time around in the ’70s and ’80s. Who knows? Maybe the Q will get tired of all the synthesized beats and autotune and go pop rock all over again. Kris Rodgers will be well aligned for that kind of retro top 40.
Headlines | Released by Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems | with Kalen & the Sky Theives + Scott Girouard | at Empire, in Portland | Oct 10 | krisrodgersmusic.com