Dead Rock West
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Dead Rock West

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Still working on that hot first release.

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The best music tends to hit a listener from seemingly out of nowhere, fully formed and ready to infiltrate the psyche. Of course even the newest discovery has paid their dues somewhere, which means there are often real treasures often right under our very noses. So it is with Dead Rock West.

Flying just under the radar, for the past three years this quintet featuring Cindy Wasserman (vocals, starbourine,) Frank Lee Drennen (vocals, guitar, harmonica,) Phil Parlapiano (mandolin, octave mandolin, Hammond organ, Vox Continental,) Bryan Head (drums) and David J. Carpenter (Bass) has honed their sound in California clubs, building a rep and an audience while road testing the material found on their debut disc Honey & Salt. Now with word of mouth building and an armful of new recordings the group is ready to hit the next plateau.

With a name like Dead Rock West, youd be correct in assuming there are occasional country and folk influences, but really thats just touching on the bands capabilities. Dashes of garage, power pop jangle, and rock n roll populate the set list, played with passion to match the songcraft. The secret weapon here? Its the vocal harmonies. Dont misunderstand. This is one tight band all around. But Wasserman and Drennens voices are a seamless blend that add melody to already impressive hooks. Icing on an already pretty tasty cake.

While Dead Rock West has been together since 2002, the group is really a culmination of years of work in Southern California nightspots. Drennen spent time playing the acoustic clubs in San Diego, teaming up in the early 90's with former Alarm guitarist Dave Sharp and forming pop group Loam shortly thereafter. They would go on to release two albums in the U.S. and Spain, and win a San Diego Music Award in the process, with their song Telephone later recast by Dead Rock West as an amphetamine fueled Byrds flavored rocker. Drennen also spent time with The Hatchet Brothers, teaming up with troubadour Gregory Page for two albums and a barroom sing-a-long that kept San Diego clubs packed for years. He also joined Page and Carpenter in The Troubled Sleepers. In fact it was with the latter that the seeds of Dead Rock West were sown.

I met Cindy through Gregory, remembers Drennen. She and I recorded two songs at Dave's house just for fun with the Troubled Sleepers as the backing band. It was then that we realized we had something special in the sound of our two voices together. Describing the inspired vocal interplay, Drennen is effusive. He notes the soulfulness of Wassermans voice, but also points out their varied vocal approach. Cindy thinks of the mic stand as an antenna to the spirits and that they use the stand to speak through her. I'm more visceral, prowling. Looking to hunt that connection down and kill it.

For her part, Wasserman is no stranger to either stage or studio. Most recently she has toured and recorded with Grant Lee Phillips. In fact all the members have extensive touring backgrounds. Carpenter has toured and recorded with Toni Childs as well as Doe and Phillips. Head does double duty with his band Abandoned Pools, and has toured with Shelby Lynne. Most impressively, Parlapiano was previously in Geffen Records act The Brothers Figaro and has performed with Grant Lee Buffalo, Tracy Chapman, Lucinda Williams, Rod Stewart, Social Distortion, amongst many others

All that experience is used to great effect on Honey & Salt. Recorded at Grandmas Warehouse in Echo Park, the disc was recorded the way they used to; 2" tape, 24 tracks, no click tracks or pitch correction machines. In addition to the members of Dead Rock West, the genesis of the album involves a few other key players. The Section Quartet (Sam Phillips, etc.) provide strings and pedal steel player Greg Leisz also contributes, with the album mixed by Grammy winner Richard Dodd (Tom Petty, George Harrison, Steve Earle, Traveling Wilburys etc.)

Basically I contacted him via his web site, Drennen recalls. I told him about ourselves, that we were recording to tape and I asked if he ever mixed any one who was not rich or famous. To his surprise Dodd replied. He responded saying he was interested in hearing the works in progress. Nervously, I sent him the songs. We were'nt even finished overdubbing at this point. After a couple of long phone converstions I was convinced this man loves music and wants to be a part of projects he can be proud to put his name on. Needless to say we ended up in Nashville and spent six wonderful days hearing our songs come alive and listening to his stories.

The trips end result are the Honey & Salt tracks, as catchy and varied a collection of songs as youre likely to come across. Whether Wasserman or Drennen take the lead, the groups way with a melody cant be denied. Our premise from the beginning was two great voices singing great songs, simple as that, states Drennen. And it's still our goal. Despite those impressive credentials, Dead Rock West is