Into the darkness

Riding shotgun on Route .44's lonesome highway
By CHRIS CONTI  |  May 5, 2009

Route .44 Main
'No Genre To Tie Us Down' Route .44 

The new release from Route .44, This is My America (Blue Radio Records), provides further insight into lead singer Ian "Lefty" Lacombe's affinity for the dark side, as the enigmatic southpaw guitarist delves even deeper than on the acclaimed 2'07 debut, Worthless Lessons. But Providence native Lacombe and his seven mates know that accolades and first-prize ribbons don't pay the bills.

"We have won a lot of awards over the past couple of years, and it's nice to be recognized for our hard work, but we can't make a living off of awards," Lacombe said. He then addressed the Rhody music scene, tongue firmly planted in cheek: "Bands are now competing with 300 channels of high-def cable, the Internet and video games, and people can now live their entire existence without ever leaving home," he said. "People can text their dealer, have a bag of weed dropped off at their house, order pizza, and play Guitar Hero until the sun comes up. Why leave that glorious life?

"You'll see long lines at the downtown discos while phenomenal musicians are playing in front of nobody. You can blame everyone — from bars to clubs to bands to fans — but the reality is that live music is a dying art, and unless we find out how to get people into the clubs, we will lose live music. Maybe that's not so bad to some, but to me it's another lost resource, another piece of civilization discarded."

But misery loves company, and the octet attracts fans with a unique sound, often drawing comparisons to Morphine (thanks to the horn section of Matt Swanton and Paul Choquette), with Lacombe playing the part of Mark Sandman, especially on tracks like "Barfly" and "Lonely Together," where he quips, "I say that patience can wane on the hardest man, a couple of drinks and the walls are coming down tonight." Vocalist Jess Powers often offers an ethereal counterpoint to Lacombe's bluesy outlook; on "What I Am," she rides shotgun while he slyly addresses his female antagonist: "I'm a serpent in a man, a serpent in human skin." And on "The Blame Game," Lacombe channels Tom Waits with a throaty growl: "Blame is the name of the game you refrain from accepting," followed by an eerie chuckle of "it's all good, man, it's all good." This Is My America (available at cdbaby.com, Route44.org, and iTunes) is bookended by songs addressing the current (and shaky) state of the union, but the core of the text remains unrepentant heartache and revenge. Lacombe has said he's not inspired by happy-go-lucky love.

"Yeah, my wife was really happy to read that quote," he said, cracking wise, "but it's the truth. There was a long time following Worthless Lessons when I couldn't write anything. Simply put, I was a happy man. Not that I'm unhappy now, but I am looking outside of my personal life to find inspiration and, sorry to say, it's everywhere now. That's where the darker tone of this album stems from."

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