Known as an eminent pianist and vocalist who can bang out covers of Elton John and Billy Joel, Portland’s Kris Rodgers has seemed to be lurking at the periphery of several Portland music scenes for years. He’s got a CV with time logged in power-pop acts like the Connection and the Kurt Baker Band (among others), and to the naked ear, overwhelming evidence of a youth soaking up decades of rock lore.
The 10-song power-player Losing the Frequen- cy shows, rock lore is now coursing through his bloodstream. Guided by his sturdy and capable baritone, Rodgers and his band the Dirty Gems plows through numerous ‘80s rock tricks, tropes and celebrations, making the aging genre look second nature while giving it a few new coats of modern varnish. Handling keys and arrange- ments on the album, he’s joined by Tom Hall on guitars, Kurt Baker on bass, and Craig Sala on drums. Most of the album’s ten tracks sound like distant FM standouts on some radio dial of internal nostalgia. For a project that purports to be studious about its devotion to ‘80s rock ‘n’ roll — several of his lyrics actively pine for “rock ‘n’ roll radio,” and a press release calls for a return to an “album-oriented” listening experience — Rodgers’s songwriting and arrangements are borderline impeccably executed. If you’re looking to recreate this style of music, this a straight-up songwriting clinic.
On some tracks, he’s confessional, as on the verses of the unexpectedly pop-country-ish opener “Let Go.” Slinked out by Hall’s licks, Rodgers momentarily flips the switch on us, finding a middle ground somewhere between Paul Weller and Jason Aldean. On “No Place to Go,” mo- ments of introspection peer through the pop veneer: “you don’t want the truth / I’m on the wrong side looking through.”
On others, Rodgers lyrics flood these upbeat songs, his brassy vocals filling the measures instrumentally and letting his band wiggle through them. “Are you ready, are you ready, for the revolution?” he shouts in “Revolution,” an upbeat rocker that would sound at home during a midday set on WBLM. “Are you ready for your one chance to be free?” Here, Rodgers version of rising up comports with the standard rock ‘n’ roll definition, where listeners are free to plug in their own value system. “It’s gonna be the night of your lives,” he shouts, one where we “face our destiny.” The swaggering “Overrated” storms onto the scene like a Thin Lizzy B-side, a smart power-pop testament to confused affections about an on-again/off-again interest. “I don’t know why I just can’t let you go,” he explains in the chorus, sticking the ‘O’ for an impressive duration “’cuz you’re overrated.” It’s one of the album’s more rewarding tracks, with Hall’s guitar trickery steering the band through several twisted starts and stops.
These are well-crafted songs with original flair, but on occasion, Losing the Frequency can feel like listening to an ‘80s tribute. Tracks like “Bring Back Rock N’ Roll Radio” almost liter- ally affirm this. Surely this is all by design, but more variation (or deviation) from the power- pop formula — and among Rodgers’s admittedly
impressive vocal range and delivery — could make a more dynamic listen. Rodgers and co. don’t stray from the stomping power-pop until album closer “Who’s Gonna Save You Now?” — and only then for a Meatloaf-y two-minute piano intro. It’s an impressively energetic al- bum, but seen another way, it lacks an element of chill that could help fit it to a broader range of settings. It’s a little too tightly controlled to reach the high notes of legends like Todd Rundgren and Nick Lowe.
But Rodgers is hard to bet against. He’s got the unteachable tool of being a born entertainer, and an intuitive knack for this stuff. Folks are gonna hear these songs in their sleep.
Losing the Frequency | By Kris Rodgers & the Dirty Gems | with Memphis Lightning | Fri, July 28 at 9 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | $6 | www.portlandempire.com
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