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'Don't Act Right'

When bands are taking requests between songs, I often put in my two cents: "Play something original!"

Sure, it's great to hear tunes you might know and love, but why not give the musicians an opportunity to put their writing skills on display.

When I saw Boss Diablo on a handful of occasions last year, I was mightily impressed by the band's choices of songs to cover: Go back in the archives and read my raves about such fare as "Help Me," "Homework" and "We've Gotta Get Out of This Place." Great material, and stuff you don't hear every day.

Still, I looked forward to hearing what the members of the quartet would put together on their own. A demo CD they put together last year gave an inkling, with a couple of originals included, highlight by a slice of social commentary (including "special guest commentary by George Dubya," as the band puts it) called "End of Days."

That song is one of nine originals among a dozen tracks on Boss Diablo's debut album, "Don't Act Right," just released on Blawnox-based Moondog Records. And for anyone who's caught the band's live set, the CD doesn't disappoint, bringing together the band's varied blues and rock influences in a well-produced package.

Guitarist Chuck Beatty had a hand in composing all the originals, and he shares vocal duties with drummer Tom Hohn, well-known around this area for his work with the Cynics. Chuck also handled much of the production duties, with Tom taking care of the vocal arrangements. They're ably augmented by the other two band members, bass player Brian Washington and harmonica player Stanley J. Mikolajek.

Many commentaries about albums start with words about the opening track. But let's begin here with the closer, which would seem a natural as the band's theme song: "The Ballad of Boss Diablo." Over an instrumental arrangement that would make Ennio Morricone proud, Hohn delivers a story line about "one bad hombre" from south of the border "dealing black tar and fragrant buds of green." Move over, Panama Red!

Some other highlights:

* The near-title track, "You Don't Act Right," shows a strong rockabilly influence, with various band members harmonizing for the chorus: "Can't take you out in the daylight, 'cause baby, you don't act right." Chuck plays a suitably crunchy guitar break, without a pick, no less.

*"Light a Candle," a primarily acoustic song featuring Chuck using his growling vocal style to a melancholy effect, and an outchorus that's reminscent of mid-period Rolling Stones.

* "Shake Some Dust" is a Beatty-Hohn composition that has a sinister ambience throughout, from Stanley's filtered harmonica to Chuck's strategic use of reverb and
slide guitar to Tom's "desperate times call for desperate measures" vocal delivery.

* "King of the Urban Jungle," the band tells us, is Chuck's tribute to the late James King, a bluesman of some renown around the Pittsburgh area. Beatty makes his
low-pitched vocals resonate and his guitar sting through a song that sounds something like John Lee Hooker meets Magic Sam.

The cover songs are some of the band's stage favorites: Tom Waits' spooky "Way Down in the Hole" (Chuck's vocals are practically a dead ringer for the original), the jump blues "I Love You Honey," and "Midnight Train," as popularized by the great Buddy Guy.

And to close, let's talk about the opener. "Darker Side" is co-written by Beatty and Washington, D.C., lyricist Matthew Aquiline, addressing some of what's wrong of the American dream: "Promises made every day, then broken/Things that beat you down become security/Sends you down to your darker side." Chuck gives the song a very distinctive flavor with his tasteful use of tremolo throughout.

Accompanying the basic quartet on a couple of tracks is keyboardist Bill Maruca, a regular in the Grateful Dead tribute band Fungus. And adding vocals on a couple of other songs are two ladies who also have the last name of Beatty, Elisa and Ruth.

Everyone combines for a musical document that shows the members of Boss Diablo are capable of coming up with some quality material of their own to go along with their superb choices of old favorites (of mine, at least) to play for new audiences.

CD RELEASE PARTY: 8 p.m. Friday, May 19, at Moondog's, 378 Freeport Road, Blawnox. Plus special guests the Pump Fakes.


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