15 years ago last week, Rustic Overtones appeared on the cover of the third-ever issue of the Portland Phoenix. It was, of course, a carpetbagger’s way of ingratiating ourselves to the locals (obviously), but it was also done because everyone was under the impression that an album on Arista Records was in short order, made with that infamous “million-dollar” budget so as to catapult them to international superstardom.
Instead, after trials and tribulations, Viva Nueva was not to see the light of day until 2001, on Tommy Boy Records, which was to quickly go out of business.
As a result of all the rigamarole, the album didn’t receive nearly its due. Nor was it really the record that Rustic wanted to put out. They wanted “Check,” perhaps the band’s sound-defining song, with big gang-vocal chorus and blaring horns, slotted second. Not thirteenth.
And “Carsick.” How did “Carsick” not make the Tommy Boy release? With its signature Dave Gutter explosive scream and lilting melody (“they say flying is safer than your car”), it is the blend of raw power and musicality that drew people to them in the first place.
Well, now things have been rectified, with the re-release of Viva Nueva this weekend. The new double-disc includes both the original Tommy Boy 16 tracks (plus a “Combustible” radio edit) and This Is Rock and Roll, the album Rustic wanted to release (plus six live tracks as a bonus).
Even if it’s just a reminder to throw Viva Nueva in the headphones, their playing of the record front to back this weekend is a great idea, but it’s also a chance to reconsider what those meany execs got as their wish. What if “Combustible” had been relegated to the dustbin, as Rustic hoped? That might be the best song they play live. But the band were totally right to want “Gas on Skin” as an opener. Jon Roods’ bass thrum in the intro always quickens the heart.
“C’Mon” has some gimmick to it, sure, but it’s hard to argue with the label’s lack of interest in “Carnival.”
All told, what becomes apparent is the difficulty one has in wrapping arms around the Rustic Overtones sound. They are so expansive, so torn between art and fire and brimstone, that even 17 songs seems like barely scratching the surface—a marketing team’s nightmare.
Which has played out in front of our eyes as the band have matured and released a steady stream of material that refuses to ever be predictable or easy.
Really, the only question that matters, in the end, is that one uttered by David Bowie on “Sector Z”: “Are you listening?”
Viva Nueva + This Is Rock and Roll | Released by Rustic Overtones | at Port City Music Hall, in Portland | Oct 10 | therusticovertones.com