As the title says, Rumbleseat is dead. The one-time side project for Hot Water Music's guitarists/vocalists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard along with Samantha Jones was never really a fully operational band. Having released only a handful of seven inches as well as a few tracks on compilation CDs, they never really took off. Nevertheless, they managed to string together a loyal fan base, many coming from HWM's. Their four seven inches -- California Burritos, Picker, Saturn In Crosshairs, and Trestles were snatched up quickly. For years, only one of them, California Burritos, was still available from their label. Is Dead serves to bring all of Rumbleseat's previously released work plus some unreleased tracks to one album.
Anyone who was anticipating the release of the Rumbleseat album knows the constant delays that came along. One such delay was the loss of a number of recordings to a flood in Richmond, Virginia, which meant all the original covers had to be reprinted. For over two years fans anxiously awaited its release and until now, were let down with delay after delay.
The end result though was well worth the wait, especially for fans who didn't have any or all of the original releases from the Gainesville trio. Rumbleseat can perhaps be best described as acoustic whiskey-influenced campfire punk rock. Certainly not anything like what you'll find on the next Punk Goes Acoustic release. If you took Hot Water Music and injected their songs with a giant testosterone shot (which is funny, because Rumbleseat had a female member), took away the drums, and gave them acoustic guitars you might end up with Rumbleseat. For those who realize that my descriptions are worthless, take a listen to the Hot Water Music cover of "Bleeder" on their split with Alkaline Trio to get an idea of what I'm talking about.
As far as the originals on Is Dead go, the material focuses a lot on alcoholic nights and hungover mornings. While tackling covers, most notably Johnny Cash and June Carter's "Jackson," the band attempt and succeed in making them seem their own. The upbeat songs such as "Jack of Diamonds," "Picker," and their take on the traditional song "Rye Whiskey" are as good as feel-good gets. At the same time, the more somber "Saturn in Crosshairs," "'Trestles," and "Restless" seem genuinely heartfelt and at times regretful.
More unreleased songs would have been a great treat to those who have the original releases. While the new songs on Is Dead are great, especially "Shithouse Rat," fans could have done with more, even alternate versions such as the electric version of "Cursing Concrete" which surfaced last year. Fair enough, the band planned to include a bunch of unheard tracks before they were lost in a flood. But there must be something else lying around, or perhaps they could have re-entered to studio to re-record them. Rumbleseat certainly has no obligation to provide anything more than they have -- heck, anything at all, but it would have been nice.
It's too bad that Rumbleseat is, in fact, dead. Seeing these songs played live in some sweaty dingy bar would have been amazing. Some Hot Water Music fans in Ontario, Canada, were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse three years ago when Hot Water Music was scheduled to play a show during a power-outage. Not to leave fans hanging, Hot Water Music hit an ally near the venue and played nearly every song in Rumbleseat's catalogue.
Rumbleseat will most likely be constantly referred to as an acoustic Hot Water Music. Not such a bad stigma to be attached to, but Rumbleseat's songs can definitely stand on their own. With the release of Is Dead, they have been given the chance to do just that.