“If you can sing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ to a bunch of teenagers on a Brooklyn subway train, you can do anything.”
Fueled by a boozy mix of classic honky-tonk, high-energy garage-punk, and good old-fashioned filthy talk, Uncle Leon and the Alibis seem determined to drag modern “Roots” music, kicking and screaming, back to the gritty back roads it grew up on.
But on the band’s latest full-length studio album, Wild Ways, Uncle Leon’s world takes a much darker turn: Lovers cheat, mothers pop pills, friends grow “old and lame”, and even the uptempo drinking songs are tinged with an aftertaste of hangover and regret.
Granted, with titles like “Whiskey and Weed and Big-Titted Women”, no one’s going to be mistaking Leon for Leonard Cohen anytime soon. But beneath the singer’s bawdy, beer-swilling exterior lurks some cutthroat songwriting, backed by one of the most vivacious gangs of cowpunks to ever stumble their way onto a New York City stage.
Sonically, Wild Ways is the group’s most ambitious album yet. Recorded entirely on vintage analog equipment, straight to 24-track tape (yes, tape), and mastered by Joe Lambert at Brooklyn’s JLM Sound, the album is Uncle Leon’s love letter to a more soulful—if not always simpler—era of recording.
Uncle Leon and the Alibis have previously released two “quick-n-dirty” self-produced studio albums: Drunk and Roller Derby Saved My Soul, as well as the 2010 live album, That’s My Shit! Uncle Leon also recorded a limited-edition vinyl single, “The Bartender”, for Metropolicana Records in Scotland.
Two of the band’s songs, “Big Idea” and “Drugstore Roses”, appeared in the indie feature film My Best Day, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. The song “Roller Derby Saved My Soul” has been featured on CBS TV’s Hawaii Five-0, as well as two Australian documentaries—ABC’s “Roller Derby Dolls”, and This is Roller Derby—and in various fan-created YouTube videos. The song has also inspired a theatrical stage play, a few serious essays, and at least one tattoo.
Most recently, Leon directed and edited the “Wild Ways” music video.