Get ’em while they’re hot!

The Patrons carry on Boston’s country-rock tradition
By JON GARELICK  |  August 1, 2006

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SHUFFLE ON: The Patrons’ idea of “country” extends from Buck Owens to the Stones and Solomon Burke.
I’ll admit, my country-music credentials are piss-poor, but the first time I heard the Patrons album All That Is Tied (Raggmopp), I liked it because I thought it was good country music. That is, it sounded like the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” Which, when I told Patrons lead singer and guitarist Jonah Kraut about it, made perfect sense to him. After all, Kraut pointed out, “Dead Flowers” was inspired by country-rock deity Gram Parsons, and Parsons was in turn inspired by the whole Bakersfield scene of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and Gram was a big part of where the Patrons were coming from.

There are no “pure” American roots genres, country least of all. But a shuffle beat and the whine of a pedal steel guitar go a long way toward defining it — that and hooky verse-chorus arrangements and story-filled lyrics. The Patrons combine soul and blues and rock (check: the Stones, the Band, Dylan) with the clear textures and swinging ensembles of Nashville session-man heaven. And when I heard the band live (at Tír na nóg, where they return on August 25), their “roots” were apparent in the covers: the Band’s “The Weight” (in an arrangement true to the original in assigning each verse to a different voice), Owens’s “Act Naturally,” Doug Sahm’s “She’s About a Mover,” Dale Hawkins’s “Suzie-Q.” Those are broad roots, but the Patrons — with their piano-and-guitars instrumentation and vocal harmonies — have a sound that says they know what they’re shooting for.

When I get together with Kraut and drummer/vocalist Ryan Barrett at the 1369 in Central Square, Kraut cites chapter and verse from the discographies of Parsons (including the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds), Sahm (Sir Douglas Quintet, Texas Tornadoes), and guitarist James Burton (Elvis, Ricky Nelson, and that original of “Suzie-Q”). The Patrons are experts at delivering pedal-steel-driven country love songs like Kraut’s “I’ll Be Betting All My Love on You,” and you can hear the honky-tonk in the fast-walking foxtrot of his “It’s All He Knows,” with its string of joke verses in which every slight is excused with the title line. But making selective use of a sax-and-trumpet section, the Patrons also find that place where country met blues and soul in the Muscle Shoals studios. This is especially true on the CD’s longest track, “Darling, Once Again,” which even includes a “talking” lover’s plea reminiscent of Norman Meade & Jerry Ragovoy’s “Time Is on My Side” (written for Irma Thomas, but a hit for the Stones in ’64). You can hear it too on Kraut’s title track, which amounts to a soul ballad done country style, with swelling horns and triplet piano figures ratcheting up the tension against the 4/4 beat on the bridge.

“On the first Flying Burrito Brothers record,” Kraut says, “they start off with two originals and then tracks three and four are two Dan Penn songs, ‘Do Right Woman’ and ‘Dark End of the Street’ [the latter written with Ragovoy]. That had a big effect on what I wanted to do, that whole genre-bending thing, especially because it’s a country band doing country soul.”

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