"Brad Williams might have the most iconic voice in local music. Rangy and rarely onstage without a cowboy hat, the Salty Dogs front man sings in the kind of easy twang that comes from growing up in Marked Tree, but he tempers it with a big helping of Southern soul (you could imagine Williams doing right by a Dan Penn song). Williams and the Dogs — Brent LaBeau (bass), Bart Angel (drums), Nick Devlin (guitar) — often get pegged as “new traditionalists” or “honky-tonk revivalists,” which to these ears is just another way of saying country music that lasts.
On Saturday, the band celebrates the release of its fourth album and first on Max Recordings, “Brand New Reason.” It's full of hot guitar licks, organ workouts and clever lyrics. The lead track, “Rock and Roll Will Never Stay,” offers a sly rejoinder to a preacher who's condemned rock 'n' roll. It goes like this: “We're living in one accord/we're living by the spirit and we're dying by the sooouul.” - Lindsey Millar [Arkansas Times / January 2010]
"The Salty Dogs enter the studio when one prerequisite has been fulfilled: The honky-tonkfied country quartet record "when Brad has enough songs," said band guitar and pedal steel specialist Nick Devlin.
The Brad in question is lead singer, guitar player and The Salty Dogs songwriter Brad Williams, and last spring Williams noted two years had passed since the release of the group's second album, 2007's Autoharpoon, a stirring, toe-tapping collection of tunes featuring the band's love of staggering saloon piano, swooning lap steel and rapid-fire electric guitar picking neatly tied together by a shuffling, swinging rhythm section.
“We'd been playing some of the same songs so it just kind of happened I started writing new songs," Williams said. "And we started playing the new songs really well so I thought it would be fun to record these songs."
And so the Dogs — Williams and Devlin along with drummer Bart Angel and new bass player Brent LaBeau — began recording tracks for their third album in May 2009, working with Will Boyd at the American Princes guitar player's downtown studio. Recording finished at Boyd’s home studio in the early fall, with Stephen Winter adding Rhodes electric piano, Hammond B3 and piano to the eight tracks and 32 minutes of music titled Brand New Reason. Although Autoharpoon was released on Colorado-based Big Bender Records, Brand New Reason has the distinction of being Max Recordings' first album of the new decade. (The Salty Dogs had hoped to release Autoharpoon on the Little Rock record label started by Burt Taggart, but the timing was off.)
While the band's first album, 2004's The Salty Dogs and Friends, and Autoharpoon were steep in the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, and Western swing along with traces of country gospel and rock 'n' roll, Brand New Reason is The Salty Dogs fully realized. There's still ballads such as the brokenhearted misery march of "Words May Talk," and country swingers such as "Rock and Roll Will Never Stay," with Winter's electric piano peppering Williams' command to "Shout it out sister/While you're sitting in your upper room," but Brand New Reason is a little flashier — witness the turbo-injected gallop of the quartet's cover of Chuck Berry's "Nadine" with its razor-sharp guitar riffs — and a little sexier — the fuzzed out, glam rock excess of the T. Rex riff that kicks off "Knock 3X."
"With the first album I can listen to it, and pick and choose the songs I like," Williams said. "The second album I can listen to from beginning to end and I like it. We got away from the corny cowboy sound and that was the intention. But I think this record captures a little more of what we are about. It's got this swing to it, but also a rock 'n' roll sound to it. And that's one of the things that I enjoy. We have other influences other than country. ... I think it offers a snapshot of what we are about."
What The Salty Dogs are about is being a group of mature Little Rock-based musicians with converging musical pedigrees. The four Dogs have gathered on a frosty weekday night at Angel's Stifft Station house he shares with wife, singer/songwriter Amy Garland, and son, Eli. Angel and Devlin are members of The Amy Garland Band while Angel and Williams are members of Big Silver. Devlin has played in "hundreds" of bands since arriving from Scotland at the age of 31, and LaBeau is a former member of The Gunbunnies and Mulehead.
"I've known the guys for a long time," said LaBeau in explaining his entrance to The Salty Dogs two years ago. "When Mike [Nelson, The Salty Dogs’ original bass player] left, the guys still wanted to play, and Mulehead had been dead for two years so it was a perfect fit."
The Salty Dogs originally formed with one goal in mind — to create a "knock-off, over-the-top country" band and win the Arkansas Times Musician's Showcase. But a funny thing happened: Devlin was persuaded to join the original lineup, and "We started playing pretty well," Williams said. "We took the joke a little too seriously, but I wouldn't say too seriously."
The group won the 2003 showcase and seven years later the members — between commitments to family, jobs and other musical projects — find time to play semi-regular gigs and record central Arkansas' best mix of honky tonk and rock 'n' roll. It might have started as a joke, but the public understands.
"Good songs are good songs," Angel said. "[The Salty Dogs] just kind of sprouted up around these good songs."
And when Williams' readies his next batch of tales, the world will be graced with another collection of Salty Dogs tunes ... hopefully before 2013." - Shea Stewart / Sync Weekly [January 2010]