The Dirty Guv'nahs aren't exactly ashamed of their first record, 2007's Don't Need No Money. It's just that they're so pleased with the new self-titled follow-up that they're considering it, instead of Money, as their first real, official release.
"It's a better introduction to our music, as opposed to the stuff we did on our own," says guitarist/bassist Justin Hoskins. "If people are going to start somewhere with us, we want them to start here."
The Dirty Guv'nahs is, without question, a marked improvement over Don't Need No Money. The latter was recorded in a basement studio with seat-of-the-pants production by guitarist Michael Jenkins just a few months after the six-piece band first got together. The new disc was recorded at David Barbe's Chase Park Transduction studio in Athens, Ga., over five days in February. "It's a more accurate representation of the band," says keyboard player Chris Doudy. "The first record was good for the resources available to us at the time. The new album shows how much we've progressed and where we are now."
The band's unanimous appraisal of Barbe's work is "awesome." But it's not just his work that makes the new disc so much better than its predecessor. The Guv'nahs have improved as songwriters, too, harnessing the jam-band tendencies of Don't Need No Money into tighter compositions that coalesce around classic rock, R&B, soul, country, and gospel—a sound that recalls the eclectic roots-music melting pots of the Black Crowes, Exile on Main St.-era Rolling Stones, early Allman Brothers, and even a trace of Neil Young's 1970s work with Crazy Horse, with loud guitars, swinging rhythms, funky Hammond organ parts, and James Trimble's distinctively soulful vocals. The band still lets loose with long instrumental passages—three of the album's 13 tracks stretch out to six minutes or more—but those jams feel like integral parts of the songs rather than ways to fill out a few minutes of tape.
The Guv'nahs—Trimble, Hoskins, Jenkins, Doudy, bassist Mitch Stewart, and drummer Aaron Hoskins—don't intend to sit on the new record. They regard it as the first step toward a truly professional career as touring musicians after a two-year apprenticeship as a regional band.
"We see this as the record that propels us to making music for a living," Hoskins says.
They'll be building on a busy regional schedule that's kept them on the road most weekends, playing cities within a few hours' drive over and over again. This weekend's headlining show at the Bijou Theatre to celebrate the CD release will be one notable landmark along the way, as will this summer's spot at Bonnaroo.
"It's almost like the first CD got us into places outside of Knoxville," Trimble says. "That allowed us to make enough money to make the new CD, and that's the reason we got into Bonnaroo. There's a lot of momentum in the band. As terrible as it's been to play and make zero money, it builds momentum if you keep playing and keep playing. Now all our hard work's paying off. We always get invited back, and we always have more people. A year and a half ago, I got a sheet of paper and wrote down some goals. Two of them were to play the Bijou and Bonnaroo."
Since the CD release show won't be a regular gig for the band, they don't want it to be routine for the audience, either. They've hired former Gran Torino trumpeter Scott Peterson to arrange a horn section for the show, and they're also adding several guest musicians and singers to their lineup.
"There are going to be 13 people on stage," Hoskins says. "We want it to be big and fun and have everybody participating. There's a recession going on, you know?"