No Hat Act

Posted October 17, 2007 in Music

 If the slick, soulless drivel that passes for contemporary country music is enough to make you puke, despair not. David Serby has arrived.

In the mold of Harlan Howard, Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam, this appealing singer/songwriter/guitarist plays some classic Bakersfield-style honky-tonk with a welcome bit of Texas-style folk-blues thrown in. We’re talkin’ real songs of dirt and dust—of love, lust and heartbreak, where dreams and regret often collide without warning. You don’t just hear these story songs, you feel them.

Serby, Illinois-born but now living in South Pasadena, has an eye for vivid detail and complex characters.  With most songs written, sung and played on acoustic guitar by just himself, last year’s I Just Don’t Go Home is a focused, memorable debut. His new one, Another Sleepless Night (due in March), is more up-tempo, with a fuller, more varied group sound. His versatile band, the Sidewinders, is a veritable all-star cast of seasoned session people, with guitarist Ed Tree (Spencer Davis Group), bassist Taras Prodaniuk (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam), and drummer Gary Ferguson (John Hiatt.) Contributions from guests including pedal steel guitarists JayDee Maness (Byrds, Buck Owens, Desert Rose Band) and Chris Lawrence (Mike Ness), plus fiddler Amy Farris (Dave Alvin, Kelly Willis), add even more color to his sonic palette. Among its best tracks is “It Ain’t a Party,” a true-to-life ballad that turns a simple phrase into a full-blown short story in less than four minutes.

“It’s not easy, but that’s what I strive for as a songwriter,” says Selby. “A point of view, an economy of words, and catchy melody—that’s what makes some of my heroes, like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dave Alvin, so special to me.”

Serby is the only LA-area indie act scheduled to perform in May at Stagecoach, the Coachella fest’s 50-act country/bluegrass offspring. With such hugely respected people like Willie, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Lucinda Williams, the Flatlanders, Nickel Creek, Robert Earl Keen, Emmylou Harris, Raul Malo and Neko Case, yeah, he’s a little excited about the opportunity.

“It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Serby beams. “Willie Nelson is one of my idols, and even though he probably won’t even be out of bed when I take the stage, it’s such a thrill to play at the same concert.”

As for today’s cookie-cutter Nashville product, the amiable Serby—unlike me—refuses to talk trash.

“It’s just pop music with a banjo once in awhile,” he says matter-of-factly. “It’s not for me, but that said, it has a place. A lot of people are buying it. And it is a good thing for alt-country singer-songwriters like Lucinda Williams and Jim Lauderdale, because they reap the benefits when one of their songs becomes a hit when recorded by someone else.”

No doubt about it, country music needs David Serby.


David Serby & the Sidewinders play the Press, 129 Harvard Ave., Claremont, (909) 625-4808; Sat., 10 p.m. Free.


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