New Release: The Handcuffs Burn The Rails (Pravda Records)
Throughout his storied career, drummer Brad Elvis has lent his gift to many bands, including Screams, the Elvis Brothers, Big Hello, the Romantics, and his own band the Handcuffs. Burn The Rails is a testament to his love and commitment to making great rock music. It’s been 11 years since the ‘Cuffs last studio album, the tour-de-force Waiting For The Robot. Since then, the band has written new songs, played them out live, while Elvis has toured the world with the Romantics.
The sound of the ‘Cuffs has matured and evolved since the first release some 16 years ago. On Rails, their fourth studio album, the band visits a glam/indie/solid 70s universe, creating a fresh edge on each track. Along with Elvis and his bride Chloe F. Orwell (lead vocals, guitar, saxophone), the Chicago quintet is rounded out with bassist Emily Togni, lead guitarist Jeffrey Kmieciak, and keyboardist Alison Hinderliter. Mike Hagler (Wilco, Neko Case, Mavis Staples, My Morning Jacket) returns to produce the band. After self-releasing the first three Handcuffs’ records on OOFL (Our Own Fucking Label), the band has jumped onto the Pravda Records clientele list for a bigger bang in promotion and distribution.
The ‘Cuffs mention T-Rex, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music, The Raconteurs, P.J. Harvey, Led Zeppelin, and Patti Smith as inspirations for their work. Truer words were never spoken, you’ll just need to listen to believe. It’s one thing to be inspired by your musical heroes, but an entirely different life experience to actually play with them. Such is the case with the band’s new BFF Morgan Fisher of Mott The Hoople. Fisher plays synthesizers on “She Ain’t No Fluffer,” a powerhouse of a tune worthy of all ears on the planet. He also shows off some cheeky glances on the song’s video. Fisher adds some witty piano licks to “I’m Happy Just to Dream With You,” a beauty of a melody genuinely showcasing Orwell’s alluring vocals.
Throughout his four-decade career, Elvis has kept meticulous (one could argue obsessive and compulsive) gig notes. These, and other priceless behind-the-curtain memories, will be included in an upcoming autobiography from the four-handed drummer. With his experiences and expert retrospection, we may be looking at a Tolstoy-length publication (title recommendation: Brad Elvis: The War and Peace of a Rock Legend).
On the opening track, the instrumental “Grapefruit,” the listener is immediately exposed to the aural definition of the Handcuffs, with the tightest of tight songs you may ever know. Let’s call it a 46-second infusion of badassery (please turn it up). From that point on, listeners will experience some of the best music America has to offer, straight outta the Windy City. “Love Me While You Can” is a single-worthy track. On it, Orwell sings, “A circle of friends, the innest of ins / We can’t be bought or sold / Mademoiselle, it’s so hard to tell / But the Jet Baby always knows (Oh yeah).” The “Jet Baby” is a reference to the closing track on the band’s debut, Model For A Revolution.
And what’s with that title and killer cover photo? It seems that Chicago and other northern cities utilize the method of heating the tracks – or, burning the rails – in extreme temps (as in subzero temps). This may or may not act as a metaphor for the ‘Cuffs as they go all scorched earth on these 13 terrific tunes. The resulting conflagration leaves nothing but audio ashes in its wake, not unlike Sherman’s travels through Georgia. The more you know!
At the two-and-a-half-minute mark on “Big Fat Mouth Shut,” the song does a reset, with touches of The Who‘s “Happy Jack” lilting for a bit before the song gets into a full-on rock extravaganza. Speaking of The Who, Elvis has harvested much inspiration from the late, great Keith Moon. To see this band live with that guy on the drums, one can easily connect the dots between the two. Elvis is hands-down one of the most proficient drummers you’ve ever seen, practicing that Moonie way of life: class clown, main cut-up, born entertainer.
Orwell sings her heart out on “Let’s Name Our Children,” along with providing wonderful saxophone licks. Special guest Inga Olson leaves her mark with the cello, making this a beauty of a ballad. “Pretty Pretty” kicks off with a prodding beat and some more sax. With tips of the hat to the seventies era of music, you may be shocked as to how 2022 it actually sounds. This is a well-produced, sonically appealing album that you may just keep turning it up. The epic “I Cry For You” underscores the raw talent of each band member, with Kmieciak’s guitar wailing directly into your pumping heart.
On the fabulous “The End Of The Party,” Orwell exclaims, “Kissing ass and singing songs / A nod, a wink, we all played along,” glamming up some serious rock stew. The closing track is the instrumental “Tobogganing,” providing the listener with all those aforementioned genres, getting together in a cacophonous fever dream.
As fans bear witness to the fourth album by The Handcuffs, it’s clear Elvis, Orwell, and the rest of this incredible band are only improving. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to catch these guys live. For more information and to buy Burn The Rails, visit the group’s Bandcamp page. Rock on.
Categories: New Music