Album Review: The D.I.’s – Rare Cuts!

Note: the album is included as a bonus CD in the deluxe package of The GearsRockin’ at Ground Zero (reviewed below), but it deserves its own review.

The D.I.'s - Rare Cuts!The 2009 Hep Cat release of Rockin’ at Ground Zero includes a bonus CD of cuts entitled, appropriately enough, Rare Cuts! After the demise of The Gears, vocalist Axxel G. Reese and guitarist drummer Dave Drive resurfaced quickly in The D.I.’s, There they employed a similar (yet slightly more refined) approach. Elements of rockabilly are brought more to the fore; “Taylor Yard Blues,” the kickoff track on Rare Cuts! sounds like Jason and the Scorchers, West Coast Edition. The production of nine of Rare Cuts! tracks is handled by the estimable Billy Zoom (X, The Blasters) who exhibits a keen understanding of the group’s musical direction. (He would. I mean, look at the guy.)

While elements of humor always lurked just below the surface in The Gears’ songs, tracks like “Your Dad’s a Cop” bring the smirking approach to the fore. The D.I.’s slow things down just a bit compared to The Gears, but in doing so they add a certain groove to the music. Except for the punkabilly vocal delivery, “Leave Love to Me” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Junior Brown album. As with The Gears, there’s a surprising and refreshing variety to the songs; the tracks on Rare Cuts! stay far away from the “let’s write the same song over and over” approach of many bands.

Rare Cuts! spans five separate sessions covering the period 1983 to 1990. The four tracks that comprise their 1984 Lock N’ Load EP (the group’s sole official release prior to this compilation) exhibit a buzzsaw guitar attack leavened with nimble lead fills throughout. “Shot Down” from the group’s 1985 sessions for A&M starts off sounding like a punked-up “Last Train to Clarkesville”, and that’s not a bad thing. Those sessions even include a touch of keyboards(!) courtesy of Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Herartbreakers) and tight harmony backing vocals. By far the most “professional” sounding tracks on the disc, the A&M session cuts keep the energy while bringing the sort of polish that (one would have hoped) could have brought the D.I. some hard-won commercial success. That was not to be, but this package puts 22 songs together for a fantastic listen. Don’t miss the D.I.’s cover of the Buffalo Springfield hit “Mr. Soul.”

The liner notes included with Rare Cuts! add some needed perspective and context to the music by this relatively-unknown combo. Despite their low profile, the D.I.’s were turning out music every bit as exciting as The Blasters and X, to name two. While the D.I.’s maintained the punk aesthetic, the songs on Rare Cuts! transcend that genre to produce some timeless rock and roll. Packaged together, The Gears’ Rockin’ at Ground Zero and The D.I.’s Rare Cuts are two hours of rock and roll’s true essence.