Album review: Dead Rock West, ‘It’s Everly Time!’ an homage to influential but sometimes forgotten duo

Frank Drennen and Cindy Wasserman are Dead Rock West. Photo by Jim Herrington

Frank Drennen and Cindy Wasserman are Dead Rock West.
Photo by Jim Herrington

California vocal duo Dead Rock West’s’ new album, “It’s Everly Time,” brings the stirring harmonies and simple storytelling of Phil and Don Everly into the new millennium with polished care.

For a lot of younger music fans, the Everly Brothers don’t really resonate on their musical radar. Maybe they read a brief article in Rolling Stone about them or just know the name. For the most part, they are inconsequential.

Dead Rock WestTo be clear, the Everly Brothers are very consequential to modern music. Its brotherly harmonies cut like crystals and their phrasing and melodies influenced cornerstones of pop music such as The Beatles, Paul Simon and the Beach Boys; everyone wanted to sound like the Everlys.

As the brothers migrated into the later years of their pop careers, they began to influence country and rockabilly as bands began to place an equal importance on harmony and melody as story. As Paul Simon put it, “The Everlys were there at the crossroads of country and R&B. They witnessed and were part of the birth of rock and roll.” That is certainly something to behold.

“It’s Everly Time” comes on the heels of a resurgence in Everly Brothers recognition and nostalgia in the last couple of years. Its catalog has seen a number of reinterpretations from musicians, including Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones’ album “Foreverly” and Bonnie Prince Billy and Dawn McCarthy’s “What the Brothers Sang,” as well Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covering the group’s “Gone, Gone, Gone” as a single for their Grammy-winning album “Raising Sand.”

So what Dead Rock West’s Cindy Wasserman and Frank Lee Drennen are doing with this album is nothing new; by definition a cover album can’t be new. But what the duo gets right is that it let the music speak for itself. With a capable backing band in DJ Bonebrake (drums), Dave Gleason (acoustic rhythm guitar), Elliott Easton (lead electric guitar), Dave Alvin (guitar) multi-instrumentalists Phil Parliapiano and David J. Carpenter, they add a little more shine and vibrancy to these 1960s era songs.

Produced by Mark Linett (Dave Alvin, Randy Newman, Brian Wilson), the album culls most of its material from the Everlys’ 1964 release, “In Our Image.” The yearning “Leave My Girl Alone” is full and shimmering with Wasserman and Drennen’s voices weaving together like silver thread. The duo’s elegant harmonies match the Everlys’ in passion and clarity and define the heartache in “Like Strangers” and the tenderness in “(Why Am I) Chained To a Memory.” The voices of the Everly Brothers were its musical foundation and Wasserman and Drennen keep that legacy intact with their pristine, spirited interpretations.

Really, this album is all about keeping the legacy of Everlys intact and in the public conscious. They refurbish the band’s catalog with a new sonic coat and higher quality audio equipment rather than renovating the songs to fit modern sensibilities. Songs like “Cathy’s Clown” and “It Only Costs A Dime” pop with brightness and lesser-known gems like “June Is As Cold As December” are given a proper makeover to be reintroduced to the world. To its credit, the band plays the songs straight and precise, not adding extra arrangements or embellishments to the songs. They add a little more pep to upbeat numbers like “Gone Gone Gone” and “The Price Of Love,” but play the songs exactly as the Everlys had 50 years before. This speaks to the greatness of the Everlys and the care of Dead Rock West to not mess around with a good thing.

While “It’s Everly Time” is another covers album, it does what a lot of covers album don’t, which is to embody a similar spirit and emotional tone of the original. The basis of the Everlys was two angelic voices coming together to create one and the duo of Wasserman and Drennen truly create beautiful symmetry.

Related story: Frank Drennen talks about the making of “It’s Everly Time.” LINK

  • Dead Rock West
    “It’s Everly Time”

    Release: July 17, 2015
    Label: Angel Flight Recording Co.
    Notable Tracks: “Leave My Girl Alone,” “(Why Am I) Chained To a Memory”

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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