I’m a big fan of travel, a big fan of history, and a big fan of Americana so it should come as absolutely no surprise that I have an infatuation with Route 66, the old US Highway that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. The old road has long been bypassed by Interstate Freeways, but continues to live on as a tourist destination, or rather tourist travel. When one of my favorite bands, The Lost Dogs, decided to try their own take on the old road, I was in on the ground level. It’s no wonder the band would look to Route 66 as an inspiration for songs, the road has a wide variety of geographic sights and tourist traps from hotels shaped like teepees, to Cadillacs buried nose first into the sand, to a giant blue whale sitting in the middle of a pond. The road has also gone through several phases of existence, from the cord of life for Dust Bowl stricken farmers to try and find employment in California in the 1930’s, to the essential route to vacation destinations like the Grand Canyon with hotels and tourist traps to boot in the 1950’s, to a battleground in the 1960’s and 1970’s for small towns trying to save their existence from the freeways that would carry their traffic past and never into their shops, inns, and restaurants.
The Lost Dogs aren’t certainly the first band to dig into this rich soil for content, but the four members, Terry Taylor (of the band Daniel Amos), Michael Roe (of the band The 77’s), Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong (of the band The Choir) took it on themselves to gain first-hand experience of the road travelling together in a RV from end-to-end while filming the entire trip. The band played shows along the road and explored forgotten nooks and crannies away from the bright lights of gas stations and restaurants that sit right off the exits. The album explores the different parts of the road, starting with some thematic songs about the highway in general, including a re-worked version of Daniel Amos’ “Glory Road.” I really like the addition of Mike Roe’s Dick Dale-like surf rock guitar motif, but live version they played when they reached the Santa Monica pier has a faster tempo and I prefer it to the slower version they put on this CD. The cornerstone of the album is the middle section that focuses on the plight of Okies heading west along the dangerous, winding old Route 66 only to reach California hoping to find work there. This part is, as would be expected, somber and unsettling as Mike Roe croons “the wife cries/she wants to go back/but there ain’t no back to go back to/the banks and bulldozers made damn sure of that.” The next section of the album centers around the arid, dry desert that the road crosses through the Southwest, even evoking an Eagles-like tribute to Winslow from “Take It Easy” with their song “Goodbye Winslow” and a hopeful song about the children of a mission school on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona in “Desert Flowers.” Taylor writes “Dead End Diner” about a waitress located off the freeway pining for a better life with a little political satire mixed in (never a fan of any president, regardless of party, Taylor sneaks in the repeating lines “Obama’s on the radio/Here’s my money/Obama’s on the radio/Keep the change, honey”).
The match of Route 66 and Lost Dogs seems quite the fit as, like the highway, the members of the band have gone through several phases of their own history. Taylor, Hindalong, Roe, and Daugherty started out as pioneers in the 70’s and 80’s playing rock and roll in churches against some ridicule that rock was inherently sinful. In the 90’s they joined together as a novelty supergroup and in the last 10 years have coalesced into elder statesmen of rock and roll and thoughtful Americana music. Much like Route 66, they have been bypassed by bands that are faster, better looking, and get to the point quicker, but like Route 66 they are a still quietly delivering to those that take the time to step off the radio and explore what’s outside of the mainstream. All of the expected elements are here on the album, Roe’s guitar work, Hindalong’s quirky percussion, Taylor’s thoughtful penned lyrics, and some nice harmonizing from all four members. The introduction of a theme ties the album together nicely and the format of the album gives the listener almost a feel of traveling from east to west. The entire trip was filmed by the talented Jimmy Abegg as they visited with people that live along the road and hopefully that footage will also see the light of day, but for now, Old Angel makes for a satisfying travel journal of one group’s road-trip from Chicago to Los Angeles.