That’s no greasy middle-aged man, that’s Dexter Romweber, a greasy younger cat from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, whose hillbilly guitar and soulful pipes recapture the primitive off-the-cuff brilliance of early rockabilly (as in Jerry Lee Lewis, not the Stray Cats). While other fans of the old stuff simply try to replicate the past, Flat Duo Jets — usually just Dex and drummer Crow — somehow become the real thing, displaying nary a hint of nostalgia.
The six appealingly shabby tracks of In Stereo cover the Coasters, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly et al., but the first full album is unalloyed brilliance. Wailin’, hootin’ and generally acting like a country boy headed straight for hell, Romweber runs on pure forward momentum through mindless rockers like “Wild Wild Lover” and “Please Please Baby,” then becomes a backwoods Romeo for wonderfully oily ballads like “Baby” and “Dreams Don’t Cost a Thing.”
Teaming with noted renegade producer Jim Dickinson (a champion of studio spontaneity) for Go Go Harlem Baby makes sense on paper, but the album is probably too undisciplined. The ultra-live sound of the speedballs renders some of them generic, although Romweber continues to excel on the slower cuts, offering an atmospheric reading of the instrumental classic “Harlem Nocturne” and crooning with aplomb on the Duprees’ “You Belong to Me” and “Apple Blossom Time.”
Produced by Caleb Southern, White Trees is the Jets’ second masterpiece, proof that Romweber can diversify without losing his frisky urgency. Sticking exclusively to originals, the boy spews out everything from boogie woogie (“Old Soul”) to funky rock (“Daughter of the Jungle”) to cornball country (“Husband of a Country Singing Star”) to spooky mood pieces (“Rabbit Foot Blues”). Holy moly!
Introducing is another ripsnorting winner, mixing a handful of apt cover choices (including Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” which gets tender, sensitive treatment, and Bo Diddley’s “Pretty Thing,” which rattles like a jalopy going downhill with a busted axle as Crow attempts to demonstrate a three-handed version of Bo’s signature beat) and a full supply of Dexter’s originals. Recorded in Brooklyn by Norton co-owner (and ex-A-Bones singer) Billy Miller, Introducing is compelling evidence that it’s nothing in the water that makes these boys act so crazy.
A good’n’greasy delight, Red Tango finds Dex and Crow pulling back slightly from the psychotronic abandon of Introducing-yet retaining their hell-bent charm. While the frantic rockers are swell, especially “Baby Are You Hiding From Me” and Ray Harris’ “Lonely Wolf,” the quieter mood pieces achieve a haunting resonance equal to the Flat Duo Jets’ very best. In other words, “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “Sea of Flames” may well frighten the overly sensitive, while the wistfully sloppy “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again,” once recorded by none other than the late George Burns, will bring a tear to the most jaded eye. Lordy!
Safari is the inevitable for-collectors-only grab bag, 34 (!) previously unreleased tracks-almost all covers-recorded live, in various studios and at home between 1984 and ’87. Although the sound is often painfully lo-fi, the magical spirit is undeniable.