Far and away the Dexateens are the most criminally underrated rock’n’roll band in America. I can’t think of another band that has been cranking out album after album of intense killer songs with so little notice being paid. I’m not sure what the explanation is for that. I’ve been onboard since I first heard them and everyone I’ve played them for turns into a fan in short order. Fortunately for us these guys clearly aren’t familiar with the concept of quitting, they’ve gone on a hiatus or two but it never sticks.
After one of those breaks they returned roaring with the 2013 EP (though at 8 songs I’m calling it an album) Sunsphere. It was a welcome return but shortly after it came out I started hearing about another album that they already had in the making. That album turned out to be Teenage Hallelujah. The wait seemed like forever but as soon as I heard the album I was enthralled.
Kicking off with a drum and bass groove giving away to a suitably nasty guitar “Old Rebel” is exactly the kind of song that every album should open with. It serves as a mission statement for the rest of the album in both lyrically and sonically. Elliott McPherson sings songs that are filled with “the southern thing” in a way that feels more authentic to me than just about anyone else. Granted I am sure as a California boy I miss the significance of some lines and I know for sure a few references are over my head. The honesty and lack of pretension shines through even to someone with my limited understanding.
With a solidified lineup of returning guitarist Brad Armstrong (who put an excellent album, “Empire” this year), drummer Brian Gosdin, new addition Taylor Hollingsworth on guitar along side founders Matt Patton on bass and guitarist singer McPherson the Dexateens travel the map on this record in a beautiful way. From the ragers that harken back to their “Teenager” years like “Eat Cornbread. Raise Hell” through the Replacements-esque “Boys With Knives”, the beautiful folky pop of “Treat Me Right”, the slinky “Jimmy Johns” and the near perfect “Curtain Call Candice” they turn over every stone on the rock’n’roll path. Many bands can do one of those types of songs well but few can excel at all of those styles the way the Dexateens can. Co-produced by the band and Bronson Tew and recorded largely at Dial Back Sound in Mississippi, Teenage Hallelujah sounded like a straight up rock album to me at first pass but the closer I listened to it the more I noticed how incredibly weird it is. The sounds they captured are the musical equivalent of a fun and funky hole in the wall bar in a sea of sanitized corporate drinking establishments.
The crown jewel of the album is “Down in the Valley” kicking off with guitars smearing across each other as the bass and drums bounce along. The song never relents through a anthem chorus and a very classic rock (in the best possible way) musical outro that fades into a group chant of the mantra “Can I get a new, creation”. That line has been chasing me since the album came out. It reverberated in my head. It creeps in when I’m trying to write. It reminds me of a girl I dated shortly after high school. In a more perfect world this song would be a radio staple.
This album easily falls into the Essential Listening category. I can’t encourage you more to pick this one up. My vinyl came with a church fan which has got to be the best bonus included with an album of all time. I don’t know if rock’n’roll really needs to, or even deserves to, be saved but if anyone can do it my bet is on the motherfucking Dexateens. It’s safe to say this machine kills americana.