“fantastically authentic-sounding originals”
“Just when I start to think that maybe Americans have given up and ceded all rights to authentic American music to the Europeans, a band comes along to restore my faith in my musician countrymen. The B-Stars out of San Francisco is one of those bands. If you love the sounds of hillbilly boogie, western swing, and Hank Williams style honky tonk, then you owe it to yourself to check out the band’s second record, West Coast Special.
The B-Stars, a five-piece combo with a few guests here and there, are a joy to listen to. The songs on this record—nine fantastically authentic-sounding originals and three great covers—explore several different styles of classic country. The recordings also sound exceptionally authentic. The record was recorded at The Wally Sound in Oakland on vintage analogue tape equipment through vintage microphones. Personally, I’m not sure how much difference that makes over digital recording methods, but if it helps the band capture the right mood, then more power to ‘em!
The record starts off with a cover of Groovey Joe Poovey’s “Careful Baby” which leads into one of the band’s fine original tunes, “Still Waiting” and with these two numbers, the band establishes that they can deliver original songs that stand right up against the classics.I think this record leans mostly toward western swing, but like I said, there are plenty of other styles represented here too. It’s mostly western swing right through to cut number six, where the band shifts into more of a hillbilly boogie sound with “Time is Money.” Rhythm guitarist, Greg Yanito wrote the song as well as about half of the other originals, and sings a duet with Lil’ Anne M. Yanito, and the two sound great together. They both have well-crafted hillbilly voices and they blend well together. And the song was a great choice for a duet.
Next, the band pays homage to the great Hank Williams with “When the Darkness Turns to Light,” another Yanito tune. Far from trying to pretend they’re not trying to sound like old Hank, the band outdoes itself making everything about the tune sound like a Williams recording. Really nicely done. They resurrect this sound on the last cut, another cover, “Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm,” which is also about as close to a rockabilly tune as you’re going to hear on this record, complete with a cool slap bass interlude by the band’s other lead vocalist and song writer, Eric Reedy. While Reedy usually plays a more laid-back bass, on this tune he cuts loose.
Rounding out the band are Billy Zelinski on drums, Pierre Laik on lead guitar, and Larry Chung on steel guitar and fiddle. Clearly these guys have done their homework and they master not only the sound, but maybe more importantly, the styles. They are all very talented musicians, but they feel no need to prove how good they are. There’s no showing off here (well, maybe just a little!) Instead, these guys play off each other perfectly as the style would dictate. The guitar weaves in and out to create space for the fiddle or the steel guitar, each taking their turn to handle the feature part. That kind of interplay makes this style of music so interesting to me. And it’s that kind of subtlety that is lost on so much modern music. Modern Rock guitarists seem to think that if you pile enough distortion onto a guitar solo, a million motes a second sounds great. But it’s just so much noise compared to the clean sound—and cleanly played guitar and steel parts on recordings like this.
The instrumentation and arrangements on “West Coast Special” are really great and very, very true to the genre. And the song writing is also very solid. There are some really fun songs on the record…oh heck, they’re all fun! Check out “Chicken Fried” for the classic slightly silly hillbilly boogie tune. It’s definitely one of my favorites. It paints a great picture and you can just see the guys sittin’ on the porch after the work’s all done not quite able to get all the way through the tune without laughing. It’s just such a fun song, and one which really encapsulates the joy of authentic country music as it was created before Nashville’s elites realized what a money machine they had in a gentrified country music.
All in all, this is just a really fine record. It’s a load of fun to listen to, and it tells story after story as only hillbilly music can.
My recommendation: Well, if you haven’t figured it out already, let me try to make it clear – you need to own this record!”
-Buster Fayte, September 30, 2014