Record Review – El Monte Slim – If I Could Just Break Even
El Monte Slim is a California band with Michigan roots. Lead singer/gee-tar picker Ian Trumbull was the front-man for 90’s Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor-based bar-room juggernaut The Deterants before packing up and setting out towards the Pacific. He landed in San Diego and, with fellow `Rant Jimmy “Jazz” Ayala and ex-Holy Cow John Popovich, formed Ghost Town Deputies for a string of impressive records and shows on the left coast.
2013 finds Ian leaving his Midwest bar-rock roots not totally behind, but masked somewhere between the more prevalent honky-tonk sounds of Bakersfield and Nashville. There’s enough pedal steel to tempt you past your Dwight Yoakam records, and sufficient twang to file this right next to the Burritos in your collection. Gram would be proud, boys.
The sparse drums provide just the tastiest of textures behind the standup-bass Gallup and gently strummed hollow-body guitar. I don’t think the ride cymbal even makes an appearance before track 9, and by then it’s a welcome texture-changer to add some spice to the chorus of stand-out track Knucklehead. This might be the one the girls want to hear, as the band happily obliges, resisting the urge to get back to the booze-soaked tales of longing and desperation that make up the rest of the record.
The pedal steel teeters between the juke-joint and the almost-tropical at times, like you’re watching the sun set on the beach somewhere between San Diego and Los Angeles, but you’ve still got your work boots on and you’re sucking down a whiskey instead of a fruity umbrella drink.
Just when we’re all wrapped up in the California sun – here come the vocals – and we’re transported back to the cold, cloudy upper-Midwest. Ian’s inflection and cadence are distinctively Mid-American, lending a credibility to the subject matter and mood that might otherwise be lost in a genre flooded with an abundance of mediocre output and insincerity. He’s found his voice here, more-so than any previous project, singing with a confidence that allows for restraint and space where needed and some stretch where it’s called for. They’re mixed up front and dry – which would be a death sentence for a lesser singer, but here it’s the vocals and lyrics that make this record such a standout. There is nothing mediocre, pedestrian, or insincere in these tracks. You are glued to the damn speakers, waiting for what’s next, half dreading the news, but looking forward to the delivery with bated anticipation.