Amer Rouge, the latest album from San Francisco post-punk/country outfit Steakhouse, covers an odd array of topics such as cowboy gulags, Mexican cops, civil war, militia groups, lethal wives, Old Las Vegas, wrecked motel rooms, “new” country, John Travolta, cockfighting, and Las Cruces.
Despite the fact that Steakhouse is tagged as a post-punk/country band, Amer Rouge deviates into other stylistic arenas, including rockabilly, surf-rock, rock en Español, and retro country-pop. Essentially, Steakhouse’s sound is more or less spot-on for Quentin Tarantino movies.
The album’s title – Amer Rouge (Bitter Red) – was partially persuaded by David Polumbo’s cover art and in part by the songs.
Guitarist Reid Black explains, “Midway through the process, we realized that many of the songs involved the color red in some way–the red of rage, the red of warning lights, of dusk, of Marlboro Red, MAGA red, blood red, communist red, the red of fascism.”
Steakhouse is Mark Lee (vocals, keyboards), Reid Black (guitar), Brian Michelson (drums), and Ville Vilpponen (bass), with Lee and Black doing most of the songwriting.
Of the ten tracks on the album, highlights include “Tantrum!” with its buzzing flies intro flowing into a dark, sleazy country-surf-flavored melody that takes on tinges of psych-rock as the song develops. Lee’s delightfully rasping voice imbues the lyrics with wicked, chafing timbres.
A personal favorite because of its low-slung thrumming colors, “Shoot the Lights Out” blends country rock with drifting hints of hypno-noir, giving the tune delicious rippling, undulating textures, as well as shades of cowboy psychedelia. Soft, jangly guitars juxtaposed against Vilpponen’s fat, buttery bassline create a swanky sonic milieu.
Pure country, “No. 1” conjures up suggestions of George Strait as Lee’s vocals, lying somewhere between baritone and tenor, imbue the lyrics with silky-smooth tones. Humming with surf-rock energy, “Travolta” rides a propelling rhythm topped by Ventures-like guitars.
For some reason, the last track, “Las Cruces Days,” summons up Leonard Cohen covering Chris Isaak, sleek and slinky and slightly portentous, oozing stylish aromas of country rock.
As a whole, Amer Rouge is beguiling, with noteworthy songs adorning it with a unique amalgam of engaging surfaces.
Amer Rouge Track Listing:
2. Ranch 99
5. The Eyes
6. Shoot the Lights Out
7. No. 1
10. Las Cruces Days
Run Time: 43:45
Release Date: January 27, 2023
Record Label: Independent