Friday, September 28, 2007

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band melds distinct influences

Originally published in the Orange County Register on Friday, Sept. 28, 2007

The band, started by Cal State Fullerton students, is about to release its first full-length commercial album.

If members of classic rock icons the Band and progressive rock's Yes had decided to fuse their distinct styles, it might sound a bit like Dusty Rhodes and the River Band.
Blending modern and classic rock with folk, blues, zydeco, country and bluegrass into epic songs that defy simple categorization, the six members of Orange County's Dusty Rhodes and the River Band are set to celebrate the release of their commercial full-length debut "First You Live" when they perform a free show at the Key Club in West Hollywood on Tuesday night.
The group will then embark on a tour of the Midwest and East Coast as the opening act for Blind Melon throughout October, and then open for Mofro at a series of dates in California, Oregon and Washington in early November.
"We've actually been playing these songs for about two and a half years," said Kyle Divine, who plays guitar and harmonica in the group. "A lot of them, we wrote and started performing before we actually recorded the album."
In addition to Divine, Dusty Rhodes and the River Band includes Dustin Apodaca (keyboards, accordion, vocals), Allen Van Orman (bass), Andrea Babinski (violin, mandolin, vocals), Edson Choi (guitar, banjo, vocals, sitar) and Eric Chirco (drums).
The seeds of the group were sewn when Divine (who shares lead vocal duties with Apodaca) moved to Orange County from Kansas in 2002. After meeting Apodaca and being impressed by his demo tapes, the two Cal State Fullerton students decided to try to blend their influences and start a band.
Divine was actually serving as the band's drummer when the troupe played live for the first time in 2003.
"At the time I was busy with school so I could only devote a small amount of time to this band thing so I thought 'I'll just play drums' and he played guitar," Divine said.
"And so we played a show or two like that and then we both started realizing together we had a really good (musical) chemistry and we should actually try to do something serious with it."
After recruiting Van Orman, it only took a few months to find the other members and complete a lineup that has remained the same for four years. Although all six band mates get along well, that doesn't mean being a member of the group is always easy.
"It's ridiculously hard getting all six people off for a show or getting all six people together for practice. And touring – we've done quite a bit of touring just on our own even when we were unsigned – and it's so difficult," Divine admitted.
The recording sessions for "First You Live" began in early 2006, and were produced by Ikie Owens (a member of Mars Volta and the Long Beach Dub Allstars) and ultimately won over execs at SideOneDummy Records.
From the country-western shout along "Keys to the Truck" and the 1970s-styled prog rocker "Street Fighter" to the shimmering alt-country gem "Goodnight, Moonshine" and fiddle-anchored rocking title track, the forthcoming "First You Live" is clearly one of the most exciting debuts of the year.
Divine credits the group's having three primary songwriters and a sextet that collectively bring a wealth of influences into the mix with making Dusty Rhodes and the River Band one of the most original-sounding acts to emerge out of Orange County this decade.
"I think that it (the diversity of the outfit's sound) just happens and I think it's great. And we work really well together … but its never been 'We have to sound different'; its never been forced. It's always like pushing ourselves to write better songs more than about making every song sound different."
Divine is the first to admit the band's single biggest influence is actually "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's seminal documentary about the Band's final performance in 1976, a film that has reached a new audience since its release on DVD in May 2002.
"Well, when Dustin and I first started hanging out he brought over this DVD I had never seen before; I had never heard of the Band before and he brought over 'The Last Waltz' and he said 'Before we play music tonight, we need to watch this'," Divine recalled.
"And so we would drink beers and watch it and get all inspired and have to shut it off before it was over because 'Yeah, yeah!. That's what we want to do. That's the kind of music we want to make!' "
Dusty Rhodes and the River Band's first full-length release, "First You Live," is set for release by Los Angeles-based SideOneDummy Records on Oct. 9. But listeners will be able to pick up the 13-song collection a week early if they catch Dusty Rhodes and the River Band's CD release party at the Key Club, 9039 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night (Oct. 2). Admission to the concert is free.

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