The Dirty Rollers Pick Up Where Americana Rock Cult Favorites American Ambulance Left Off

by delarue

American Ambulance seem pretty much finished at this point. But what a ride they had. The New York Americana rockers burned hard for the better part of fifteen years before finally going on hiatus at the end of last year.With a fearlessly populist political sensibility in reaction to the terror of the Bush/Cheney years, they became a lot less country and a lot harder-rocking as the past decade went by.

These days lead guitarist Scott Aldrich is in Rhode Island, and bassist Tim Reedy is plenty busy with his own music. But frontman/guitarist Pete Cenedella and drummer Joe Dessereau are keeping things going as the core of their new band the Dirty Rollers. They’ll be playing a characteristically marathon set starting at 7:30 PM at Hifi Bar on May 18 with plenty of special guests including darkly transcendent singer Erica Smith. Cenedella also promises a number of deviously chosen cover tunes.

Last October at the Treehouse at 2A, American Ambulance played what might have been the band’s final Manhattan show. And it wasn’t sad – it was a pretty wild night. They didn’t waste any time opening with one of the evening’s best numbers, a pouncing blue-flame late-night outlaws-on-the-run scenario, with a long, uneasily minor-key organ solo from guest keyboardist Charly Roth. Cenedella opened the next tune with just vocals and guitar, all tension and expectancy, fueled by Dessereau’s spring-loaded beat,  Aldrich blasting through a couple of terse, vintage Keith Richards-style solos.

Reedy sang the next number, a mashup of classic four-on-the-floor barroom rock and restlessly opaque 90s Wilco: “So many things to forget about,” he intoned sardonically. They shifted gears after that, Roth on piano with the witheringly sarcastic Hey Richard Nixon, the political track that the Stones should have recorded on Exile on Main Street. Memory is a little sketchy on this one – listening back to an audience recording, that similarly smoldering backing vocal section sounds like Smith and her friend in belting soul intensity, Lizzie Edwards.

Down in the Basement, a fond look back at a 70s adolescence spent raising hell back when Brooklyn was a lot grittier, was slower than the band usually did it, Roth’s river of organ adding an extra tinge of pensiveness and soul. He did the same with the number after that after that, a towering, Stonesy soul ballad, Shimmering Rain, fueled by the explosive, gospel-infused crescendos of the backing choir as they took a turn out front. Cenedella went back on the mic as the band ripped through a blistering take of the Beatles’ She Said She Said; later Reedy led the group through a lickety-split, raging cover of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.

Aldrich’s unhinged bent-note attack against the lush washes of Roth’s organ drove the big anthem after that, a deliriously fond reminiscence of escaping Long Island suburban anomie for Manhattan revelry, a Yes concert (who knew?) and good weed. With the organ at full throttle, Mary Ann Is Hanging On sounded like the Wallflowers on steroids. Then they went back to the honkytonk-inspired flavor of the band’s early years, Roth adding an oldschool Nashville edge on piano behind Aldrich’s slinky lines: :”Silence is the worst thing of all,” Cenedella railed. It’s a good bet they new band will pull out some of these on Wednesday night.

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