The strut that starts “Strong Man,” the opening single from the New Haven-based Buttondowns’ new album Volume and Tone, is straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, of the kind you don’t hear much anymore but never really got tired of in the first place. It’s the kind that makes you feel good.
“I work 20-hour days, I never get a break / the taxman takes, everything I make / I’m working so hard for so darn long / don’t even know it when the weekend comes along,” Robert Obie sings. The music puts the lie to those hard-up lyrics. It sounds like the weekend’s already here.
“I’m a strong man,” Obie says. He repeats it again. “I’m a strong man / But you make me weak.”
This hooky sense of fun permeates all of Volume and Tone. Its 11 songs look back to the golden early days of rock ‘n’ roll, when it was just a child of the blues, full of knowing innocence. As a songwriter, Obie has a knack for writing simple, direct songs — which, as anyone who has tried it will tell you, is a lot harder than it seems — that nonetheless each have their own identities, their distinct reason for being.
“Blue Guitar” opens up on its chorus to end in a riff that’s a little too satisfying for its own good. “Buzz Saw” is the 12-bar blues that a album like this needs to have. “Rendezvous” rests on a gliding hook that’s made for people to sing along to the second time they hear it, and then for the rest of the song. And “Things People Say” puts on its horn-rimmed glasses and does its best Buddy Holly, with its countrified twang, its vocal stutter, and talk of ice cream shops, soda pops, and even sock hops.
The musicians who join Obie’s vocals and guitar — Eric Bloomquist (who also plays with Lys Guillorn and Chica Non Grata) on bass and backing vocals, John Santarsiero, the Sawtelles on additional backing vocals, and Vic Steffens on keyboards as well as in the producer’s chair — are in on the fun as well. They put a pep in the songs’ step, keeping it simple and giving the songs what they need while never getting in the way.
It’s the kind of music that might just sound best on a Friday afternoon, which, perhaps not coincidentally, is the slot the Buttondowns have held down a few times at Cafe Nine in the past few months. For the release of Volume and Tone, however, they’re moving the proceedings to this Tuesday, Feb. 6., at 8:30, with Buzz Gordo, Kriss Santala, Stephany Brown, Terri Lynn, and Torque filling out the bill.
It promises to be a packed night of music. Who knows? Maybe it’ll feel like Friday already.