SEATBELT - GASOLINE & TACOS
Seatbelt, ‘Gasoline and Tacos
Released: 16th August 2022
Reviewed by Kate, 2nd October 2022
Scott “Seatbelt” McLean - guitar, Echoplex and vocals,
Jim “The Kid” Matkovich - upright bass and vocals,
John “Lenny” Lenkeit - drums and percussion.
Let’s deal with some disappointments first: Seatbelt, sadly, are not from outer space despite what their official bio tells us. The trio from San Pedro, California also seem not to have spread their gig wings across the Atlantic yet, so the odds of me getting to see this astoundingly good group are low without an injection of cash or annual leave. However, in the very likely event they are as good live as this third album suggests, you should jump at the chance to catch these guys in concert. ‘The sound of Seatbelt is distilled from the purest of American music ingredients: Sun Studios, rockabilly, hillbilly boogie, and honky tonk, performed on vintage gear but ever so slightly updated with a modern edge and energy that is as contagious as the Rockin’ Pneumonia!’ according to their website, and you’d better believe it: this is a seriously high octane record which is going to get stuck in your head and get you googling the price of plane tickets to the next Seatbelt show.
Time to road trip through this rip roarin’ record:
‘Eatin’ Crow’ - Kicking off the album with a heartbreak song is a risky move, but it pays off here. The soulful regret in Scott’s voice takes us back in time to a honky-tonk dive bar somewhere in Nashville when combined with the classic country guitar and gives us a gentler start to ease us into this record.
‘Always Something’ - There’s a lovely progression from the last song to this one. The narrator who is unhappily apologising to his lover in ‘Eatin’ Crow’ has finally lost his cool and is now rather exasperated with his partner. ‘It’s always SOMETHING with you!’ sighs Scott in this more uptempo, jolly number which lists the ridiculous scenarios in this relationship for comic effect.
‘Gasoline and Tacos’ - My favourite song on the record, but I’m a sucker for a bit of Mariachi guitar and the moodier side of country. It’s a road song: driving through endless empty towns, picking up gas-station junk food then hitting the road again. Here’s where Lenny gets to show off his talents, which have taken a supporting role until now, and we get some really fun percussion in this lament to desert loneliness.
‘Wine Women and Song’ - Time to break the mood, partially at least. The line “Wine women and song, what could possibly go wrong? I could think of a couple of things, they’re in the lyrics to the songs I sing!” has to bring a smile to the listener’s face, and the more prominent bass combine with the nursery rhyme lyrical throwback makes this a really fun song.
‘New Sheriff in Town’ - We’ve got a funky, almost latino beat to this tribute to a woman who sorts out the nonsense a man has found himself mired in, and the little shoutouts and banter between the band are very endearing. This softer song could have come from any era, and I’d love for this cute number to drop as a single.
‘Gonna Hurt for a While’ - A consolation to the heartbroken man in the form of a yearning singalong. Jim’s strong, Luther Perkins-style bass plays call and response with Scott’s guitar work if they make it to Viva Las Vegas this year, this is going to play well.
‘Big Fish Story’ - the intro alone makes this song, and the harmonica prevents this song from becoming too smooth and lounge-like. We’ve got tougher lyrics, a confident vibe and an acknowledgement that music scene stories can get elaborated in the telling, and the distortion on the vocals that drops in on the bridge gives this song a rougher edge which breaks up the album.
‘Stop Thief’ - There’s some fun accordion that makes the central metaphor more playful, and once again we step into latino rhythm territory with this rodeo, rhyming extravaganza. Again, there’s something pleasingly timeless about this band and I can imagine this on the soundtrack to a cowboy comedy movie in glorious technicolour.
‘Crawl back in your hole’ - I do enjoy Scott’s vocals when he gets a little bitter and snarling in his tone, and this bluesy rant against a slimy enemy brings in this swampy number. My only criticism of this album is that the songs are all short and sweet rather than longer journeys, and I really likes the extended breakdowns on this song.
‘Rockin’ Robot’ - A real funky one with really memorable chorus and that rougher distortion coming in again. This will be the one where the swing dancers get themselves twirling at the front of the stage.
‘Happily Ever After’ - Finally, a happy love song, and there’s room for that after all the heartache. The little Hank Williams yodels make this a pleasant, dreamy little number. Not every country song has to be about cheatin’ gals, and this is bound to get the rockabilly ladies swooning.
‘Drink Drank Drunk’ - We’re still sticking with the smoother side of Seatbelt in this ode to a heavy weekend in the saloon. ‘I can’t wait for next weekend, and I get paid and I can do it all again’ soars the refrain above the twanging guitars, and this simple, relatable old country number fills a void on the album that we didn’t know was there.
‘Cat Eyes’ - Let’s go south of the border in a very retro way in this number which highlights Lenny’s percussion skills and focuses on the pain of watching your lover looking at others over your shoulder. The riff is so catchy and ties the whole thing together. I think this takes the silver medal for my favourite song on this record.
‘Gas Station Coffee’ - These road songs really shake things up, and this song does not go where you think once the chorus drops and these emotional, Roy Orbison notes come in to remind you that this band are capable of a lot more than sharing their feelings post breakup. This is the most ‘rock’ song on the record and gives us a whole lot more guts than you’d expect.
‘Scotty’s Trainwreck’ -…then, to finish, we get a mostly instrumental outro that drives us straight back to the Man in Black’s house. It’s a solid finish to the record, and fits with ‘Gas Station Coffee’ perfectly. Somehow all three band members get to show us what they’ve got in a very short space of time.
Not all bands live up to their hype, but Seatbelt seriously do. They know they’ve got a tight set of songs on this album that range from typical country staple themes to yearning road songs of loneliness and adorable loving tunes. You need to hear this band if your heart belongs in Nashville in the era of Cadillacs and A-line skirts, and you need to get yourself down to California to feel the heat of the engine that is Seatbelt.