The Rainmakers (1986) ***1/2
How much you relatively hate this album (if at all) comes down to how allergic you are to Bob Walkenhorst's voice. Coming across like Foghorn Leghorn blaring at a Midwestern tent revival, from the arresting Thomas Hart Benton cover on down this is as classic Americana as it gets this side of John Cougar Melonhead fronting the Band, with Walkenhorst presiding as a defrocked Methodist minister excommunicated for his love of dancing and other venal rock'n'roll sins. And ever does he have the soul of a preacher in him, with a stiff-necked puritan lyrical stance condemning an American society grown fat, lazy, and drunkenly decadent as ancient Rome; and he's a fine, bordering on excellent (if only he weren't so bonecrushingly literal and straightforward), lyricist, which makes nearly all these songs highly memorable after only a few listens. Which is good, because aside from Steve Phillips' fine crunching guitar work, the music is strictly workmanlike Midwestern bar band level. It's Walkenhorst's songwriting that makes this album noteworthy, even though the band aquit themselves worthily if non-flashily: the sound is laconicly dry Chuck Berry/stripped-down, pomp-free Springsteen derived hard basic rock, an appealing if completely derivative and predictable platform for Walkenhorst's pulpit thumping. Two factors are a stumbling block for potential listeners, one of which I have stated explicitly - his voice, which can be nails-on-chalkboard in its heavily Midwestern yelp - and another which I've implied: this is rock'n'roll, not a holy roller's convention, and smug sanctimony is rarely an attractive trait. Nobody likes being preached at while they're trying to dance. And the big hit (curiously, not in the U.S. for this quinta-beyond-quintessentially mid-American band, but in the U.K.) "Let My People Go-Go," has to rank as one of the oddest dance-floor smashes ever, with Biblically inspired lyrics featuring Moses exhorting his people to get down and boogie as one of the missing Ten Commandments. Would that this album were half as interesting musically at is lyrically! The album's other hit (in the world of rock critics and alt.radio), "Drinking on the Job," sports a litany of incredibly witty puns pairing occupations/slang for drinking: the farmer got ploughed, the bricklayer plastered, the waitress tipsy, the terrorist bombed, security was tight. Ironically enough, the witty singalongibility makes for a rip-roaring drinking song. "Government Cheese," rips into lazy welfare dependents in that rarest of instances, a conservative right-wing rocker that manages to be as insightfully cutting as its couplets are amusing. Let's see Ted Nugent use half of his remaing brain cell to come up with a song half as intelligent. Weirdly enough, the band's biggest blunder comes with a completely out of character frat-boy lust anthem, "Big Fat Blonde," of which the less said of, the better (ugh, the title alone is gross). About as sexy as Jimmy Carter announcing to Playboy that he'd committed the sin of lusting in his heart. I guess they had to play it to entertain Kansas City college boys in Missouri bar dives. The other big failure is the one song penned by guitarist Phillips, "Nobody Knows," which unlike all of the rest of the songs on the album, passes by as non-descriptly as its title. Which underscores how vital Walkenhorst's lyrics and songwriting were to the band, in equal doses abrasively obnoxious with his nasally full-blast megaphone vocals and in-your-face political attitude, and for the same reasons impossible to ignore. In other words, the Midwestern Young Republican answer to the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra? Only Walkenhorst isn't nearly as radical to the right as Biafra was loonily to the left. He's just a typical product of a solidly religious, small-town Missouri upbringing, with his rock-ribbed insistence on a return to the old-fashioned values of sobriety and hard work (ha, I almost misspelled that as hard rock) a parochial preacher's moral exhortation of his congregation, than a political call to arms.