From Psycho- to Swing-billy

Hot Rod Deluxe (Sublime Records)

By Robert Gruber

With the help of producer Billy Zoom (ex-X guitarist) and the Royal Crown Revue's horn section, Ruby Joe takes a creative quantum leap forward - ironically, while at the same time going backward, retro-wise speaking.

On Hot Rod Deluxe (their second album), R.J. all but abandons the supposed psycho-billy of their '97 debut Sinking the Eight Ball, moving instead into what could be called, I guess, "swing-billy." This is what Brian Setzer might sound like if he fired a few pieces from his orchestra and rehired the Stray Cats (as back-up players, mind you - not as equals).

Not every song has the horns, though. "O My Soul" is a straight-ahead rocker complete with Jerry Lee-style piano. "Self-Righteous Stomp" is a raging, Tarantino-esque instrumental that has a bit of the surf in it. The rhythm guitar tone in "Amber's Song" is completely killer. Special mention must be made all the way 'round for the guitar playing on this album - clearly, the presence of the Zoom on board pushed the twin attack of guitarists "Jumpin' Joe" and "the Kid" to the red line and beyond, and it's a beautiful thing indeed.

Lyrically, Ruby Joe evokes all the right 50's-style imagery, especially on songs like "Last Chance Johnny" and "Hot Rod to Hell', but with a twist unique to this band. Hot Rod Deluxe is ahead of the pack, a true classic.