Holding up the bluesier side of the grungy-Americana thing that’s on the rise in Milwaukee, Calliope may be ramshackle, but its members can certainly play. There are guitar solos on this self-titled debut that are surprisingly melodic but never sloppy. There’s singing that ranges from a low drawl to a bellow, but never an off-key whine. There’s drumming that, well, while not by any means metronomic, is nonetheless potent and creative. Calliope’s overall style may not be particularly cutting edge, but it has just enough character to prevent it from being hopelessly retro.
All the fancy genre tags can be discarded to simply call Calliope classic rock. There’s a slightly modern sense of eclecticism keeping it from sounding old, but these guys left their hearts in the late ’60s and heisted quite a few riffs from those years. The way they sling them throughout the album is almost shameless, but the whole thing makes for such an enjoyable listen that it’s pointless to complain. “La Catalina” is little more than a hybrid of “Dazed And Confused” and “You Shook Me,” but a hot guitar solo and lines like “She came slidin’ down that back alley like a rattlesnake covered in grease” rescue it from lameness. “Penitent Man” and “Rising Water” smack harshly of rambling Doors trips—vocalist Al Kraemer isn't shy about aping Jim Morrison—but the dynamically arranged tunes always manage to shift into something less predictable by the time they’re finished.
Even the ballad, “Night Hawk,” will probably remind different people of a half-dozen different lighters-aloft sing-alongs of yore, but like most of its fellow tracks, it’s played so convincingly that it’s hard to doubt Calliope’s integrity. Tracks such as “Blue Ribbon Boogie” and “Woodland Stomp” compare favorably to newfangled prog/roots rockers like White Denim, and the neo-disco interludes in “Rising Water” and “Soma Holiday” should ingratiate the band to a modern jam-band crowd as well, which is probably a wise idea. These tracks are solid enough to stand on their own, but most of them could use some improvisational embellishment if they’re going to emerge from the shadows of their obvious influences.
(Calliope celebrates the release of its album tonight at Linneman’s.)