If one was in search of what the “Providence sound” is, I’d point them in the direction of The Quahogs. Tweed-quality, reverb-soaked, twangy Fender guitars laid over and folded into songs for the people that can be turned way up, stripped way down and sung along to in any venue from the full college basement to the few regulars half listening at a local dive.
Like other hometown notables Deer Tick and Atlantic Thrills, The Quahogs embrace the guitar solo, distorted honky-tonk, ripped jeans, growled vocals and spilled beer that make rock n’ roll timeless and something worth discovering over and over again through a new pair of sunglasses.
Steve DelMonico comes out swinging with a solid set of songs on The Quahog’s latest release, Sunny Waste. Fixed atop this album is a need to rock in the classic rock n’ roll sense. No need to reinvent the wheel, just a need to ride the shit out of it.
“Fight or Flight” and “Hangover Day” kick off the album as a sort of mission statement for everything The Quahog’s stand for, complete with regret, too many drinks, piano and a confession thrown out to an invisible listener before introducing a wonderful little duet written by and performed with Natale Tsipori called “Autumn Leaves.”
The lead guitar playing of Steve Donovan brings the thought of an orchestra to mind when hearing him fill out The Quahog’s crunchy folk pickin’ and strummin’ sound. The chaos of Highway 61-era Dylan is present as the guitars bracket verses with snippets and solos of both urgency and grace. Whether it’s Donovan or DelMonico interluding between words and barroom chorus refrains, the playing is precise with intentional and well-worn guitar sounds that keep the music in a recognizable place with slight renovations.
The bass work by Ryan Gould frames the context of each song, offering at times a rumbling underneath the surface and at other moments a time clock that keeps things on-point and dressed up for the occasion. John Faraone uses enough rolls and swung eighth notes to keep the rhythm-keeping purpose of drums in folk interesting and inventive without losing sight of his foundational roll on each and every track. The up-tempo beat on “Go Forth” along with the swung minor rhythm chords bring a welcome surprise with a throwback to the minor folk sound usually reserved for fires on the side of railway tracks or gypsy camps. Steve DelMonico sings with a world-weary voice that I won’t say reminds me of John McCauley. Let’s just say it sounds like he’s hopped a train or two.
Backup vocals, strings, horns and piano round out tracks when they should and shine without being overused in a way that throws back to the studio magic of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A small medley of Providence notables jump on the record; Armand Aromin on fiddle, Florence Wallis of The Low Anthem lending some fiddle and backup vocals on “Autumn Leaves” along with Sugar Honey Iced Tea’s Emily Shaw, even a saw solo by The Low Anthem’s Ben Knox Miller on “Won’t Make a Sound.”
Sunny Waste is what an album should be. It is a personality with swagger and earnestness. There are no stand-out singles that act like pillars between filler tracks, rather, each track sounds like it was written in a notebook and kept in a guitar case waiting to become what it is.