Hailing from the same town as the Gin Blossoms — Tempe, Arizona — Dead Hot Workshop debuted with a self-released cassette LP, followed several years later by a low-budget album, this one on CD. The relatively subdued White House (its recording budget partly offset by a loan from Doug Hopkins of the Gin Blossoms) is full of decent, twangy tunes. Dedicated to Hopkins, the River Otis EP continues the quartet’s rough-hewn but ballad-heavy (or light, depending on perspective) approach to country rock. Only on the final track, “257,” does Dead Hot Workshop cut loose in true blue-collar style-half-ranch, half-raunch-setting the tone for the band’s major-label debut.
A true rock’n’roll album at heart, 1001 uses country to give the music its edge rather than the other way around. Where many practitioners hold the genre sacred, Dead Hot Workshop kick country around like a new idea. Iowa native Brent Babb’s vocals have a typically cracked drawl, but they go as far as the songs take them, and often it’s out of the fields and into the city. Steve Larson’s guitar playing is dynamic-equal parts twang and bang-and the rhythm section of G. Brian Scott and Curtis Grippe rolls along sturdily. Melodic gems like “Burger Christ” and “Jesus Revisited” may display a cynical side, but function on more than one level. No matter how introspective the song, the guitars burst hungrily outward, devouring any trace of ennui.