Billed as having “That Beatles sound with a Southeast Louisiana twist,” The Abitals – named after Abita Springs – and their self-titled album came out of my meager stereo system with much anticipation and enthusiasm. Sure, proclaiming yourselves as being at all similar to one of the greatest rock bands ever is a tad much, and marrying that band with swampy pop might make ears bleed if not handled well, but whatever was to hit my inner drums, I’d take as a challenge, and take on kindly. After all – these guys are local.
In my mind, The Beatles might come up as some sort of melodic influence here and there, but for The Abitals, I’d pick Armchair Martian (who Consequence of Sound listed at number 86 of all time pop-punk bands) by way of a down the street watering hole. This is a fair and well-meant contrast, mind you. Armchair Martian mixed in country while The Abitals try to mix in some Cajun/zydeco-esque flavor to good old rock & roll. The result? Some rock-a-billy, some fisherman’s tunes, and some quick beats that may remind you of 60s/early 70s music.
It’s difficult here to name favorite songs, as they all kinda bleed into one another on a whole. The entire album sounds like one long piece. A piece that you aren’t obligated to stay during, since you’re only at this establishment for the comedy open mic night in a few minutes. But you’ll stay since you have nothing else on your plate. That’s harsh sounding, sure, but in my experiences with live and local music, it’s all best absorbed as a surprise. Something unexpected.
Certainly, the final song off this album, “Villagio Di Donado” is that very surprise, but only after a quickly played but still drawn out set of fusing genres together. It’s spoken in Italian and done up with a thick accent to boot, making me suspect some additional funny on top of the irony of the music being distinctly Cajun-ish. Or perhaps it’s paying tribute to the Italian culture in the area (of which there is a rich one) – I’m unsure. And even though I couldn’t interpret exactly what was being said, the feeling I recieved and felt was that of a sweet thank you and goodbye.
If The Abitals and their self-titled album, an experiement and effort in smashing instruments into ballads they probably weren’t meant for, establishes anything, it’s the humility of the group. They went out of their way to produce and compose music that could/will please any crowd. “See that Girl” and “Black River” being the two I’d likely dance to, The Abitals are fine at easy listening on a long Sunday drive through rural Southeast Louisiana. And something tells me that deep rural residents, used to scratchy vinyl recordings played over old radio signals, would find these sounds to be rebellious.
Well, Abitals ain’t no Beatles, but that’s alright. They don’t have to be that. This first full album of theirs is a mighty good introduction to where they are at this moment, which is to say they’re justifiable jukebox rock. Not perfect, but justifiable. Maybe one day I’ll cross paths with a performance they’re doing at a pool hall. On that day, it’ll be a surprising treat. A very kindly challenge, for sure.
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations and Occupy. If you enjoy his work, you can find more of his reviews and other writing here.