In June, the band shot footage for a video during a live performance at Vaudeville Cabaret. Prior to that, in March, they hunkered down for a week at WaveLab Studios, recording their latest self-produced album, Good Times (Weary Records), which was engineered by Tucsonan Randy McReynolds and mixed by McReynolds and WaveLab head honcho Craig Schumacher. (They're also currently managed by the Rialto Theatre's Jeb Schoonover.) Along the way, they've amassed a loyal and growing local following, and rightly so.
The Boys, whose current lineup consists of Mario Matteoli (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Darren Slyder (bass), Darren Hoff (vocals, guitar), Brian Salvi (fiddle, Wurlitzer, vocals) and Cary Ozanian (drums, piano, vocals), began life in California's Humboldt County, where Salvi, Matteoli and Hoff shared time in rock and bluegrass bands. Realizing they weren't exactly setting the world on fire from their Northern Cal environs, the three decided to get a bit more serious about pursuing music together. They piled into a Buick pointed toward the more music-friendly Austin.
As anyone who's been to Austin knows, the last thing Texas' capital city needs is another neo-traditional country/bluegrass band, but the twentysomethings' naivete somehow worked in their favor. The boys checked into a Ramada and began looking for a place to live, as well as the jobs to pay for it. At the same time, they also began playing on the street to keep a bit of cash coming in. The area they chose for busking was Austin's open-air Renaissance Market, famed for helping to launch the careers of Lucinda Williams and Poi Dog Pondering in decades past, and they got a similarly positive reception. After working their way through the town's punk and roots clubs over the next two years, the group scored a prestigious weekly gig at Austin's famed Continental Club, and they began hitting the road.
In 2002, the band released two albums, the self-released studio effort Weary Blues and a self-titled album which showcased the band's raucous, spirited live performances. Both demonstrated a band with reverence for the history of traditional country and high-and-lonesome bluegrass (the albums were split between covers and originals), but one who didn't quite have the chops of, say, Flat and Scruggs (though they compensated for it by playing with tremendous passion, at breakneck speed). And, though there was a lot of respect demonstrated for the music's conventions, they also strayed from standard bluegrass-isms by incorporating the electric twang of a Fender Telecaster.
Good Times, then, is a slight departure. Though there are some uptempo tunes (e.g., the speedy "Copenhagen," which benefits from Ian Harrison's guest spot on banjo and clocks in at a mere 1:26; an inspired take on the Carter Family classic, "Kneelin' Drunkard's Plea"), the disc spotlights the band's gentler (if not necessarily kinder) side; in other words, ballads comprise the bulk of the 16 songs here. "Rosarita #4" falls squarely into the folk singer/songwriter tradition, harmonica break and all, while "Sweet Pauline" resembles a countrified version of Leadbelly's "In the Pines." Cover "Two Long Years" is a standard bad-livin' prison lament highlighted by Salvi's lovely violin playing, and Hoff's "Never Be Lonely" is a gorgeous, piano-abetted plodder. All told, it's a far cry from the boisterousness Tucsonans have come to expect based on the band's frequent local appearances.
Are the Weary Boys slowing down and becoming men? This week's live performance should provide an answer.