by J.R. Jones
I've been listening to these guys since 1981, when a high school friend played me their first album, Stands for Decibels. "Black and White," the lead-off track from that record, is still one of the most electrifying power-pop songs I've ever heard, and "Revolution," with its hypnotic double-tracked guitar arpeggio, is an obvious tip of the hat to that tune.
Blessed with two inspired and distinctive singer-songwriters—the soulful, melodic Peter Holsapple and the cerebral, experimental Chris Stamey—the dB's followed Stands for Decibels with another classic album, the Revolver-esque Repercussion (1982), before Stamey split for a solo career. Holsapple fronted the band for two more strong albums, Like This (1984) and The Sound of Music (1987), but they lacked the creative friction that made the first two records so great.
The original lineup reunited briefly in the 80s to record a few tracks for Stamey's album Christmas Time (1986), and Stamey and Holsapple have collaborated on two folk-rock albums, the wonderful Mavericks (1991) and the less stellar Here and Now (2009). But aside from that, the band's first real reunion was a micro-tour in September 2005 that improbably included two Chicago performances, a quick-and-dirty outdoor set at the Hideout Block Party and a longer performance at the House of Blues Back Porch Stage. I was lucky enough to see both of them, and the evening show was particularly mind-blowing. In addition to having an incredible catalog of songs, Stamey and Holsapple are both virtuosic guitarists, and drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder are a frenetically inventive rhythm section.
Getting these guys in the same room together has proved to be a major undertaking: Stamey and Holder are record producers, and Rigby and Holsapple are busy session players. Since 2005 the dB's have released a few tracks ("What Becomes of the Broken Hearted," a mid-tempo acoustic ballad that benefits a Hurricane Katrina relief fund, and "Picture Sleeve," a 45 RPM single issued for Record Store Day), and played a few more live shows, but they haven't managed to mount a full-fledged reunion. This new release is such a return to form that I can't wait to see them again.