First you hear a fat, happy kick drum and sticks on cymbals, joined almost immediately by a whooping “Oh, yeah!” and an arpeggiated blast of horns; they launch the Dustbowl Revival’s celebratory revel “Call My Name” into orbit, with brassy vocalist Liz Beebe in the driver’s seat. “Call My Name” is the first track off their recently released, self-titled album — the band’s fourth — and it sets the stage for the raucous party that follows.
The freewheeling ensemble’s evolved since the early string-band days when they first made their presence felt on LA’s diverse roots-music scene. Show sets still lean into some of the bluegrass and big band jazz that please older members of Dustbowl Revival’s multigenerational audience. But the music is more prominently flavored now by soul, funk, gospel, and the “downhome New Orleans beat” that recharged bandleader Zach Lupetin’s imagination a few years back. That change is reflected in the band’s instrumentation — bass, fiddle, flugelhorn, guitars, mandolin, percussion, trombone and trumpet — as they jam at some mythical intersection between Bourbon Street, Hollywood musicals and Texas roadhouse R&B under the savvy direction of Chicago native Lupetin.
Their entertaining eclecticism has attracted famous fans like Keb’ Mo’, who joins the band on the easy-grooving “Honey I Love You”; Dick Van Dyke, who made a memorable appearance dancing through their video “Never Had to Go” (a single from their 2015 album “With a Lampshade On”); and Flogging Molly co-founder Ted Hutt, who produced “The Dustbowl Revival.” Hutt also nudged Lupetin & Co. to focus more on song craft, resulting in the amiably tough-luck tale “Debtors’ Prison” and the vengeful kiss-off “If You Could See Me Now.” The latter tune’s lyrics were penned by Beebe, who shares Lupetin’s sense of drama and invests the song with righteous bite and triumph.
The bluesy outlier in the bunch is “Don’t Wait Up.” Unusual for Dustbowl, it’s a topical song, one that addresses racism over a chilling groove and church-burning images from America’s past that feel all too relevant today:
“They caught him near Baton
They said boy we got some
plans for you
Find the highest tree
You’ll be flying free
A postcard in the mail
Struck just like a nail
He’s swinging in his sleep”
The focus on storytelling, combined with their always formidable performance chops, elevates Dustbowl Revival from self-described “American roots orchestra” with a flair for humor and zesty arrangements to hard-touring musical force whose cohesive vision is finally being realized. n
Dustbowl Revival headline at Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park, 85 E. Holly St., Pasadena, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12. Admission’s free, though donations into the bucket (passed by volunteers) help support the Levitt’s concert programming. Info: (626) 683-3230. Dustbowlrevival.com, levittpavilionpasadena.org