Released by Lugnut Brand Records, The Railroad Ave. Bullies’ single “Alligator Shoes” and accompanying b-side “She Ready” are more than glorified vehicles for Austin, Texas six-string ace Nick Diaz. The track has an outstanding pedigree deriving inspiration from the legendary Stax label and Chicago electric blues and never wearies you despite being instrumentals. The press materials for this release trumpet a “heavy shot of James Brown” in the stylistic mix, but only “She Ready” flirts with a funkier take on blues traditions. Many listeners will, instead, connect these two tracks with the blues boom of the late 60’s, albeit updated with modern production values, but it doesn’t risk mimicry at any point. It sounds and feels fresh.
The five piece band massed to record this material makes their strongest impression with the lead off track “Alligator Shoes”. Nick Diaz is a veritable fountain of imagination on guitar but listeners will be grateful to hear him refraining from any gaudy displays of his virtuosity. He concerns himself first with accompanying the other four musicians rather than leading the way, even if he has an undeniable primacy in both the arrangement and mix. His vibrato is potent and artfully straddles the line between showing stylish flair and punctuating the track with piercing emotion.
Chris Hazelton’s contributions on Hammond organ are key to the song as well. He proves himself to be an effective partner for Diaz’s guitar work and dispatches a number of keyboard runs with impressive fluidity. Rhythm guitarist Joe Baer Magnant helps further flesh out the performance while the rhythm section of bassist/songwriter/label head Chris Lujan and drummer Michael Reed provide an ample bottom end with a balanced sound that is never too busy or inert.
The second track “She Ready” is, as mentioned earlier, far funkier than “Alligator Shoes” and more uptempo. The Railroad Ave Bullies, however, steep “She Ready” deep in the blues and Diaz distinguishes himself once again with attention grabbing guitar playing full of conviction and playfulness alike. So much of his personality comes through in his fretwork and the band’s individual take on these traditional styles is notable for encouraging listeners to enjoy themselves rather than wallowing in stereotypical bluesy despair.
Lujan’s bass playing is even more creative than we heard with “Alligator Shoes” and boasts melodic sophistication far beyond what we often hear from songs of this ilk. He locks in with Reed’s drumming the entire way and Hazelton once more catches your ear with his colorful flourishes and assertive Hammond organ vamps. He scatters them throughout “She Ready” and his contributions give the tune a much livelier edge than it might have otherwise possessed.
This is an outstanding introduction to The Railroad Ave. Bullies and an object lesson. They made find a singer after this, who knows, but they don’t need one and high quality instrumentals like these re-educate even experienced music fans to knowledge they’ve always know – a great singer can be transformative, but they aren’t always necessary. “Alligator Shoes” and “She Ready” alike are wildly entertaining reminding us of this fact.’