Ol' Yeller
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Ol' Yeller

Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States | INDIE

Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States | INDIE
Band Rock Americana


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"Rich Mattson honors Paul Wellstone, Uptown Bar on Ol' Yeller's Levels"

By Craig Planting
From 2001 until 2007, Americana roots-rockers Ol' Yeller put out five studio albums (including 2004's Sounder which won a Minnesota Music Award) and toured the country, especially Texas, over a dozen times. They became a favorite of Twin Cites musicians and local music scenesters, but never broke through to a larger audience. The band disintegrated when drummer Keely Lane moved to Nashville to become a session musician and bassist Dale Kallman dropped out of music all together. Singer, guitarist, producer, and songwriter Rich Mattson returned to the Iron Range where he converted a church into a recording studio and led numerous bands including the hard-rocking Tisdales, folk duo the Bitter Spills with Baby Grant Johnson and Junkboat with his girlfriend, singer/songwriter Germaine Gemberling.

Now, after some gigs backing Gemberling, Ol' Yeller is back and ready to take another shot. Last summer they convened at Mattson's studio and recorded their new album, Levels, in six days. The album alternates between folk-influenced acoustic tunes and barnstorming rockers. The moods are often darker then Ol' Yeller's first incarnation and there aren't as many obvious country influences. The album, like most of Mattson's music, rewards repeat listening.

"Rich reuniting with his old rhythm section gives the songs the feel of a fastball caught in the pocket of a perfectly broken-in-glove," says Belfast Cowboy Terry Walsh. "Dale and Keely play like they're ready to follow Rich down any path, ready to hoist him on their shoulders if he falls, but he never stumbles."

The album's centerpiece is "Silver Bullet," a song about senator Paul Wellstone, whose life ended near Eveleth, just down the road from Mattson's recording studio.

"About five miles away as the crow flies/There lies the blood of the teacher/You can believe your conspiracy/You'll never find the silver bullet."

The music is appropriately austere and sounds like a barely-updated murder ballad from Harry Smith's Anthology of Folk Music. I asked Mattson about the song via e-mail.

"It still freaks me out," he explains, "that Wellstone met his end just five miles from my home. When I heard the news I immediately thought 'conspiracy' and my mind hasn't changed. When the idea was mentioned on TV, somebody said: 'they'll never find the silver bullet,' meaning they'll never find the real evidence that he was murdered and that made me sad. I thought of JFK, too, and how different the world could have been if those two leaders and others like them hadn't perished before their dreams came to fruition."

A memorial has been built at the crash site where you can walk on a boardwalk and read plaques detailing Wellstone's accomplishments, political theories and hopes for our future. Then the boardwalk leads you out to the actual crash site and you realize that Wellstone, his wife and their companions crashed in a swamp. The site is desolate and undeniably lonely. It's fitting that an album about defiance, perseverance and living with hard choices contains a tribute to Paul Wellstone.

There are two types of relationship songs on Levels. The first can be categorized as the "I'm going to persevere despite you stomping on my heart and abandoning me" songs. On "Hangin,'" a classic kiss-off tune, Mattson opens a vein.

"Well, she gave me back my cat/Sent some papers and that was that/But those papers are unread and they're still unsigned...I'm just sitting in my lawn chair/Pretending that they're not there/Tearing at my heart/I wanna tear them apart."

Mattson's unpretentious, lived-in baritone is reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot. It has the same masculine wrestling with heartbreak edge, similar to Willie Nelson singing: "And if I were the man you wanted/I wouldn't be the man that I am."

I ask Mattson if he had any qualms about being so honest in his songs about his past relationships. Did he ever worry about hurting anyone's feelings?

"I don't mean any harm to anyone," he replies, "and I never specifically direct any song towards any one person. All of the names and the stories have been changed to protect the guilty and the innocent."

At the risk of sounding gossipy, I wonder if Mattson's ex-girlfriends listen to his new music. Wouldn't they be tempted to try and decipher whether he was singing about them? Even if his songs made them punch walls, wouldn't their curiosity get the better of them?

The second type of relationship tune on Levels is the "I can't believe I've found a new love and I better not mess this one up" songs.

On "Comin' on Strong," an all-out rocker, Mattson sings: "I ate the forbidden fruit, it tastes just like they say/So sweet and succulent, but it isn't worth the price you pay/I looked around and I didn't see a soul in sight/Until you showed up, illuminated in a holy light."

Despite what Mattson says, it's hard not to assume that this song is about Gemberling. On "Tired of Feeling Good," a duet near - City Pages, Minneapolis MN

"Solid songwriting needs no frills"

Album Review
Solid songwriting needs no frills
by Tony Bennett
For the Duluth News Tribune
Published Thursday November 22, 2012

I already was planning on writing about Ol’ Yeller leader Rich Mattson as a kind of Iron Range Paul Westerberg, and then the guy starts name-checking the Replacements and Bob Stinson on the last track of his band’s brand-new reunion album. So, let’s get into it.

Rich Mattson should be famous. Not Katy Perry or U2 famous, but fame on the level of the aforementioned singer of the as-yet-unreunited ‘Mats.


Because whatever he does is good. It’s not always mind-blowing, but you know you’re getting quality songwriting, singing and musicianship with his projects. As the one-sheet bio that came with the promo copy of this album says: Mattson began “writing songs in 1981, at the age of fourteen.” You can go ahead and do the math yourself, but what this means is that Rich Mattson knows what he’s doing. And he has for some time.

His decades of songwriting practice pay off nicely on “Levels,” the first Ol’ Yeller record since that band closed up shop about six years ago.

Frills, you ask?

Hardly any.

Guitars, bass, drums, vocals. A very low-power trio. Once every so often, there will be a xylophone tinkling in the background, maybe a shaker hissing away on a chorus, but this band is very meat and potatoes. Same with the songs-two chords, three chords, maybe a fourth. Couple that with some honest lyrics and a nice melodic hook, and that’s it. That’s what he does in his other band, The Tisdales; in his other band, Junkboat; and in whatever else he’s doing on any particular day. This guy’s not writing prog-rock epics any time soon. He’s churning out barebones Minnesota-set anthems like a kind of Robert Pollard of the north.

Those anthems, which Mattson records himself in his Sparta, Minn., studio-a converted country church that doubles as his home - are in abundance on this release.

The set starts unassumingly with the half-time “Like a Plan,” a song that comes off like a reverby mission statement for Mattson as a human, and for “Levels” as an album. Amid talk of ghosts and agin, Mattson sings in his sandpapered-honey voice that he doesn’t like to beg or borrow, and if he can’t do something himself, he “waits for something else, and it comes.” Starting off your album talking about how unfazed you are most of the time isn’t common in rock ‘n’ roll, which historically is a home for people with axes to grind. But Mattson makes it work, even though the next track coins a word (“Scrutinizers”) to define the people who might be prone to throwing a guy under a microscope. The tune deftly pairs a funky backbeat from drummer Keely Lane with a dark grunge verse riff that is paid off by a triumphant chorus.

“Growing Roots” pairs some later-Kinks vibes with some nicely dissonant Joey Santiago-style guitar lines. “I ain’t no kid/I ain’t no good at takin’ orders,” Mattson sings, not as punk aggression, but as a statement of fact.

The album cruises along nicely from there, without a duff track in the bunch. “Silver Bullet” comes on like a droning acoustic two-step with serious “Norwegian Wood” DNA, but when you realize the lyric seems to be about a dead werewolf instead of Coors, things get juiced considerably. Later, no less than three song titles have words with dropped G’s in them. This is blue-collar stuff, but it’s not a pose.

If you’re into rock ‘n’ roll and you have yet to discover one of the best tunesmiths in Minnesota history, there’s no reason you can’t start here. Mattson clearly is having fun hooking up with his former compadres, and the whole record has a looking-back-while-looking-forward vibe not unlike that of Neil Young’s new “Psychedelic Pill.”

Long may they both run. Recommended.


Tony Bennett reviews music for the News-Tribune. - Duluth News Tribune Nov. 22, 2012

"We Will Rock You: Local Review Roundup: Ol’ Yeller..."

Ol’ Yeller, Levels

Rich Mattson has always been a bit of an anomaly in the Minneapolis scene. Too punk to be country, too twangy to be flannel-rock, Mattson lives in the strange hinterland previously occupied by folks like Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar – defiantly garagey, petulantly old-school, and popular when the zeitgeist rotates around and embraces that sound (as it does every five or six years). Of all the ensembles he’s been a part of (Glenrustles, Tisdales, et. al.), Ol’ Yeller is the most rough-and-ready: picture a mid-80s Crazy Horse in love with Dinosaur Jr. and you’re halfway there, if you’ve not heard ‘em. Levels, their first record in six years, is full of potent, whip-ass guitar-rock and a few stompy, twangy rockers, and if that’s your bag – and it should be, dammit, you’re from the Midwest – you’ll love it.

There ain’t a lick of studio gloss on Levels. It sounds like the band turned on the amps, let ‘em warm up, cranked the volume to ten (so everything has that fuzzy analog buzz) and just let ‘er rip. There’s something super-appealing about that approach, too, especially in this era when everything’s built and layered instrument-by-instrument in ProTools and massaged to perfection note by note – dig the slightly tipsy pub vocals on “Comin’ On Strong,” or the almost-careening-out-of-control vibe of “Toughin’ It Out.” It sounds like a rock and roll band playing their songs live. It says something that it’s a novel concept these days, but it kind of is.

The album careens between unrepentantly old-fashioned rockers that sound like the best tracks on a Minneapolis record from 1987 (and believe me, I mean that in the best of all possible ways – this stuff is nostalgic as hell, and it means to be) and boozy, whiskey-soaked country weepers. For the rockers, I dig “Scrutinizers,” which whips between a tense, curvy little verse and a damn catchy, celebratory chorus, and “Comin’ On Strong,” which does that almost-funky thing that the ‘Mats did so damn well back in the day on stuff like “Asking Me Lies.” And speaking of the Replacements, their ghost looms large over set-closer “Love To Rock,” which evokes that band both in the stripped-down chord structure and actual name-checks, managing to mention just about every possible Minneapolis touchstone in the process.

It’s the sad songs that, uh, say so much, though, and Mattson definitely has the gift of writing a damn fine weeper, knowing just how to add the right amount of twang and the right hitch in his voice to grab your gut in that way, you know? I like opener “Like A Plan,” which is optimistic and pretty and romantic with just a hint of depression lurking below the surface. I like “Paths,” which sounds like the product of a late-night singalong at the David Crosby mansion in 1969 and which is bolstered by a nicely bitter lyric. But my favorite is probably the funny, fucked-up break-up tune “Hangin’” – it couldn’t sound more world-weary and bitter.

Levels is the kind of record people don’t make anymore. At one point, they were a dime-a-dozen in Minneapolis, but now the art of making a damn fine garage rock record with a bit of country twang is virtually lost. It’s nice to see that Ol’ Yeller are still defiantly kicking ass in that way that people used to, sounding like a damn great live rock and roll band cranking up terrific songs in some dark, smoke-filled studio somewhere in the Iron Range that smells a little bit of old beer and a little bit of man-sweat. And believe me, that’s no bad thing - that’s the way it should be done.

-Jon Hunt - L'etoile, Wednesday Nov. 28, 2012

""Sounder" album review"

City Pages (Minneapolis) CD REVIEW:

Ol' Yeller
SMA Records
Understanding Minnesota rock 'n' roll means wrapping your brain around the possibility that our finest singer could be found, on a Fourth of July weekend, in an Iron Range bar one block from the largest hockey stick in the world, covering Modern English's "I Melt with You." Rich Mattson isn't modern or English enough to deny a plastered mob its nostalgia. Nostalgia is one of his great subjects, after all, along with dreams of returning northward for good, chasing fireflies and raising chickens far from the reach of corporate capitalism. He's so unpretentious that when his great band the Glenrustles broke up, he lifted a new name out of a goofball pun on classic canine lit (Ol' Yeller as in "old guy who yells") and now does the same with the group's fourth album, Sounder (as in "emitter of sounds"). The guy's allegiance to the rural and the working class is so natural, he makes Fogerty look like a poseur.
But Mattson's gentle voice isn't easy to write for, and he knows it. With more character than Stipe, less texture than Westerberg, his singing is transcendent among harmonies, as on the lush jangle of "Nightstand," an ode to believing in bands. The song sounds like Wilco's best Woody Guthrie rewrite, in part because Mattson has a new bassist, Greg McAloon, and guitarist, Andy Schultz--and Schultz can really sing. "I don't understand what you're talking about/But I know that the feeling is right," Mattson croons, and you realize he's reading your mind.
Elsewhere, the craftsman in him avoids sacrificing the merely likable to worry about astonishing anyone. When his voice hits that perfect Blue Öyster Cult register, below which guitar lines can safely churn, it's a pleasant place to visit. He's rocking harder now, with a couple of cuts slipping in under the two-and-a-half-minute mark (the punky "13th Grade" and "Reward"--bonus nostalgia and anti-capitalism, respectively). Drummer Keely Lane, always the Big Ben of thwack , comes to the fore of Mattson's production this time. But the highlights are quiet departures, like the strummy country of "Drawing Blanks," a blues for the inarticulate, which sounds like Valet's take on the Auteurs. More modern, more English, in other words: Can synthesizers be far behind?

Peter S. Scholtes VOL 25 #1239 . PUBLISHED 9/1/04 - City Pages

"Ol' Yeller (Album review)"

No Depression Sept./Oct. 2001
Ol' Yeller (self titled)
What does Ol' Yeller frontman Rich Mattson know about hard-hitting country rock? Well, a lot. For over a decade, Mattson fronted the Glenrustles, one of the toughest roots-rock bands in the Twin Cities. With Ol' Yeller, though Mattson tends to keep some of that gritty, classic rock sound, everything feels like a much mellower, more thoughtful endeavor.
The pop sensibility of guitar ace Randy Casey (who has since parted ways with the band) makes for a nice match with Mattson's piercing guitar and gravely growl. The band has a real knack for pretty harmonies ("Piece Of Work" and "To Thine Own Self"), country-soaked toe tappers ("The Denial Song") and solid, moving tunes ("Follow The Heart").

Recording at Mattson's Flowerpot studio, Ol' Yeller got a little help from pedal steel ace Eric Heywood and their solid rhythm section of Keely Lane (Trailer Trash) and Dale Kallman. Their self-titled debut is quality Americana for anyone who likes a glass of wine with their meat and potatoes.

--Amy Carlson - No Depression

"Best Songwriter: Rich Mattson"

Best of the Twin Cities

Best Songwriter-Rich Mattson

The late Glenrustles piled great line atop great line like coats on a bed at a party, but frontman Rich Mattson always seemed ready to flop down on them anyway. It wasn't that his songwriting lacked wit or passion, just that his spiritual weariness ran so deep that for 12 years he seemed perilously close to becoming a mellower, crustier Paul Westerberg-and we have plenty of those already. Perhaps what makes him a gentle rocker, though, also makes him a gifted talker. The self-titled debut of his new band Ol' Yeller (on SMA Records) hardly sounds resigned or pat: Mattson is writing his purest and prettiest pop yet, and the singer-guitarists "To Thine Own Self" feels like sunshine and a knock-knock joke before breakfast. "I once had a woman who'd never be my wife," he croons. "I couldn't live without her/But here I am alive." The sound is so open, simple, and rich, it recalls Tom Petty in his freefalling years. Just keep Jeff Lynne away from the premises.

May 2, 2001 - City Pages

"Farm Report"

New York Press
Music: Crispin Sartwell

Farm Report

Ol' Yeller is a hell of a band, and Ol' Yeller (SMA; P.O. Box 583183, Minneapolis, MN 55458) is a hell of an album. If they're an alt-country act then they're the best alt-country act I've heard in a while. Finding a groove somewhere between the Violent Femmes and the Byrds (see: I spelled it right!) they have a variety of modes, from a loping Dead-type pace to extremely focused alternative rock. They play beautifully, and despite the fact that one of the songs is called "You Can't Sing!" they sing beautifully too.

I can see a couple of these songs as actual rock radio hits, especially the varied-but-coherent "Haven't Tried Much". In fact, if this band doesn't make it big, I'm gonna kick some motherfucking honky record company radio programming executive fat fucked-up ass.

7/19/01-Vol.14, Iss. 17 - New York Press

"Ol' Yeller are new dogs of the road"

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Ol Yeller are new dogs of the road

Ol' Yeller's second CD, "Nuzzle," is a great throwback to what it used to be like playing in a rock band. And that's not just because the music recalls many classic, chord-driven groups, from the Byrds to Green on Red to Camper Van Beethoven (thanks to frontman Rich Mattson's throaty, David Lowery-like voice).

Ol' Yeller is one local band that's putting its faith in the music, and it shows. Mattson, drummer Keely Lane, and bassist Dale Kallman dont have day jobs. Two of them live together, in a northeast Minneapolis house where the garage serves as a studio. Mattson makes some money producing other bands there. Otherwise, he and the group rely on gigs, many of which are on the road.

"I'm not going to lie and say we're living the high life," said Mattson, 34, an Iron Range native. "We sleep on a lot of people's floors and spend a lot of time just getting by. But I dont think I'd want it any other way, at least while I'm still young."

Besides demonstrating how tight such a lifestyle can make a band, "Nuzzle" is full of the kind of free-spirited, motion-filled songwriting that comes from the road, including the Waffle House-baked "Sulpher" and the warm lament "Summer of Madness." The disc opener, "Out There," is a tribute to one of the hardest-touring musicians ever, upstate New York's Ed Hamell (Hamell On Trial), whose career was derailed in a recent car accident. "Don't you ever think he wonders, 'What am I doing here?'" Mattson muses in it.

Ol' Yeller seems to know exactly what they're doing out there: After tonight's release party at the Turf Club with Terry Eason and Duluth's Giljunko, the band kicks off a Midwest tour that ends at Austin's South By Southwest Conference in mid-March.

-Chris Riemenschneider
Friday, February 15, 2002 - Minneapolis Star Tribune


2012-LEVELS full-length album
SMA Records full length album releases:
2006-Good Luck
Split 7" w/Grand Champeen on Glurp Records
"Duluth Does Dylan Revisited" compilation
"Thank You Friends" a tribute to Big Star (Glurp Records)
plus many more compilations..



They're baaaack! Ol' Yeller returns, from hiatus, not from the dead. Rarely does a band at their level
return from hiatus..you know, a band that (since Y2k) managed to tour the country a couple-dozen
or so times over the course of 4 years and release 5 full-length albums to high critical and inter-
national praise strictly on their own skills, musicianship, and tenacity. A band that was too real for
their own good. Roots-rock? Country? Ameri-cana? The proverbial conundrum of labels. "Muttonchop
Rock" was a good one from Peter Sholtes of City Pages. "Northern Rock" was another one floating
around and sort of sticking.

Ol’ Yeller is the songs of Rich Mattson. Mr. Ol’ Yeller himself began writing songs in 1981 at the age
of 14 and as his website bio will profess, “..he had such a good time doing it that he still does it to-
day.” Some might say Rich is a bit of a control freak. I think closer to the truth is that he loves doing
what he does and when the shit hits the fan, there is only one person to blame. Some time around 1991
Mattson started running a recording studio which evolved into the present day Sparta Sound,
located on the Iron Range of Minnesota just a stone’s throw away from an abandoned iron ore pit.
His relocation and return to his roots after 18 years of rocking the ever-loving shit out of the twin cities
music scene was for reasons of personal concern, but if you listen to his songs, you find out pretty much
everything. You get the keys anyway. He’s got some hellacious stories if you get him going. In the 4 years
without Ol’ Yeller as an active creative entity Mattson played around with folk music, playing covers in
snowmobiler bars, getting loud and stoopid with the retro rock of the Tisdales (who released 3 stellar
albums) and writing songs with his new love, Germaine Gemberling. Back in 2004, returning bass player
Dale Kallman recoiled in horror when he stuck his bullshit detector a little too deep into the abyss of music
business quagmire and hung it up. He was soon to find that not having a four-stringed, low singing
instrument in his hands to express himself with was boring as hell. He soon realized that this was
as they say, “about the muuusic.” The smiling and eternally-youthful drummer Keely Lane is back from
Nashville, where he picked up gigs with some bigtime country acts (Andy Griggs, Jessica Lee Mayfield,
etc..) for a few years until the “red state blues” finally sent him packing for his beloved Minnesota. An
impromptu reunion show and a recording session backing up Germaine Gemberling got the band talking
about “doing some more stuff,” and of course, Mattson had the songs. In the summer of 2012 the three
original members of Ol’ Yeller got together for 6 days at Sparta Sound and recorded LEVELS, the new
album. Oh yeah, they rehearsed the songs..IN THEIR MINDS. It’s like adding water with these guys.
Just fire up the machines, Ol’ Yeller doesn’t miss a beat. LEVELS is living proof.
Another hiatus is scheduled for mid-to-late 2033. Note from the band: “SEE YOU SOON!”