Raw Roots 

The Weary Boys provide listeners with an honest-to-goodness pleasure

In these times, much discussion is given over to the concept of "keeping it real." Well, in a world of musical Twinkies and Ding Dong bands, The Weary Boys are a fresh, home-baked pie. Probably a strawberry-rhubarb pie, since these boys' tunes sound very sweet and very tart at different times.

On their recent fifth album, Jumpin' Jolie, the five-piece band from Austin, Texas, plays country, blues, bluegrass, vintage rock 'n' roll and Cajun music as if they grew up playing it on the back porch, at the barn dance, in the roadhouses and on the street corner.

Now, they're returning to Tucson play Friday, Dec. 8, at The Hut.

Mario Matteoli, a guitarist, singer and songwriter in the Weary Boys, can't remember just how many times his band has played in Tucson. As a roots-music-oriented city, it always seems to be on the band's itinerary.

"We've played there ever since we've been touring," he says during a recent telephone interview. "We really like the other musicians and the audience there."

The Weary Boys must dig Tucson. They tracked their third CD, 2003's Good Times, at downtown's Wavelab Studio, a recording destination for out-of-town artists such as Neko Case, DeVotchka, John Doe, Steve Wynn, Barbara Manning and Norfolk and Western, not to mention locals like Giant Sand, Calexico and Nick Luca.

Let's suspend the debate about whether the Weary Boys come by their sound in authentic fashion--they didn't study at the feet of old African-American musicians in the Deep South. These guys are all in their mid- to late-20s, and three of them are from Northern California, for goodness' sake.

But the Weary Boys play raw roots music that feels right and real and is an honest-to-goodness pleasure in a time when artificial pop stars are force-fed to worldwide audiences via multinational media outlets.

Even relatively recent musical categories such as alt-country and Americana are born as music-marketing brands pasted onto homegrown music to package it according to a recipe approved by focus groups.

Matteoli agrees. "When you hear about alt-country Americana these days, it's pretty predictable. There's a certain sound you can expect it to be--like emo with steel guitar," he says.

"We have our roots in country and blues and Cajun music--that's from playing out in Louisiana for the past six years. We take all those influences and come up with our sound, which we hope is unique and doesn't seem fake."

No kidding. On Jumpin' Jolie, the group's originals are twangy, down-home celebrations of the musical roots of the 20th century--lots of so-called alt-country bands would give their drummers' left pinkies to sound this real. Part of the credit must go to Rick Miller, leader of Southern Culture on the Skids, who helped record half of Jumpin' Jolie.

An element of the Weary Boys' appeal is in their rollicking refusal to respect the dividing lines between musical styles. After a searing Chuck Berry-style guitar lead on the rockin' "Baby's Got a Hold on Me," fiddler Brian Salvi jumps in with an old-timey solo in response.

Salvi does a wonderful of job of leading the band through amazing instrumentals such as "Lost Bayou Ramble" and "Hoot Owl." A bittersweet country stroll such as "Destination Nowhere" might call to mind the same sources that inspired the acoustic musings of the Grateful Dead, while "Drink on It" is a loose exploration of the country-rock the Jayhawks were so good at it.

And you haven't heard out-of-the-attic chestnuts such as "Vaya Con Dios" and "Jambalaya" sound this vigorous and relevant in years.

The Weary Boys were born when Matteoli, Salvi and guitarist-vocalist Darren Hoff--the band's creative core--decided to take their collective teenage experiences in bluegrass and rock bands and move from their native Humboldt County all the way down to Austin.

"We didn't realize it was the music capital of the world," Matteoli protests. "And we didn't know anybody and didn't have any gigs, so we just started playing on the street.

"We'd set up on the drag over by the college. I'd be playing through a Pignose portable, battery-powered amplifier, and we'd show up and play. We met our bass player that way. He was working at some sandwich shop near there, and he heard us."

It wasn't long before folks took notice.

"We actually played in front of these street vendors, who were selling jewelry and glass pipes or whatever the hell they were making. They seemed to like us fine. A year later, we were playing the Continental Club here and selling it out."

Bassist Darren Sluyter and drummer Cary Ozanian completed the band, and they set to recording and touring as soon as possible.

And like the gals in Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," these boys do get weary.

"I thought of that name when we were just brainstorming and throwing names around. We had just listened to Hank Williams' song, 'Weary Blues From Waitin',' and the Weary Boys seemed like a good old-fashioned name."

The name was meant to be whimsical, Matteoli says, but it turned out to be a tad prescient. "We also travel a buttload, and that's kind of turned out to be true."

Indeed, the Weary Boys have become road warriors in the past half-decade, traveling from the bayous of Louisiana to the forests of Washington, to maintain a schedule that has included upwards of 130 dates a year.

This year, they've slowed down a bit, because three of the band members have gotten married. They even took the summer off, Matteoli says.

But the band is back on the road for the holiday season, with Tucson an intermediate stop on a trip that will culminate in a Christmastime arrival in Humboldt County to visit family. Nice place for a rest stop.

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