From the mountains of Mexico to the Mississippi delta to the garages of 1960s America to the Hollywood silent film studios of yore, The Copper Gamins cover some major musical ground with just guitar, drums and vocals (and the occasional less-than-fully-strung mandolin). With a sound that ramps up primitivism into a modernist atomic blast, they play what The Big Takeover hails as "raw cacophonic trash rock with wild child naiveté" with "dirty, unrepentant 'bash the blues to hell' delinquency." They're launching a US Tour in support of their new album Los Niños de Cobre, a co-release from San Antonio's Saustex Records and Los Angeles based Latin Alternative imprint Cosmica Records. The new set has also been picked up by Mexican indie label/distributor Intolerencia for physical distribution south of the border.
It's just what comes naturally to singer, guitarist and songwriter José Carmen and drummer Claus Lafania. The result is "a kinetic ball of lo-fi goodness," as Rank and Revue described their 2012 debut EP on Saustex Media. Now with their 17-song strong first full album, Los Niños de Cobre, the duo splash their south of the border hot sauce onto the American roots'n'rock gumbo and offer up organic, visionary music.
The Copper Gamins glean inspiration from a spectrum of sources, be it the Disney movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" (the slow mesmeric blues "Hold My Name"), Oscar Wilde (the passionate anarchic love song "Nightingale"), the logical nonsense of Lewis Carroll and Latin American literary magical realism (the simmering stop/start trickster's tale "Silver Monkey") or the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema ("Angelitos Negros," a classic originally sung by screen idol Pedro Infante in the 1948 movie of the same name). And of Carmen's avatar, Charlie Chaplin, and their shared gamin muse, doe-eyed actress Paulette Goddard.
Or as Rank and Revue observes of these musical naturalists, "they hail a musical style as roots to America as you can get. But like very few before them, they put a nice twist on the genre." Reared in the nearby Central Mexican towns of Metepec (Carmen) and Zinacantepec (Lafania), the two high school friends started playing music in teen bands that covered Latin and English-language pop songs - Carmen then on drums and Lafania on guitar - but after graduation went off in search of something truer to their souls.
Daunted at securing gigs at Mexico, they headed north to Texas and barnstormed music clubs in San Antonio and Austin. The San Antonio Current was duly impressed by one gig, declaring the twosome "one of the most explosive, groovy openers of any show I've seen this year. His thing is to deconstruct the blues into a rhythmic mass that, when it's actually finished, works like a cannon." They also caught the ear of Saustex major domo Jeff Smith, who offered to release the band's recordings in the U.S.
Recorded like the EP on minimal analog gear, Los Niños de Cobre is a tribute to the fertile artistic creativity that comes from such limited technical options. By coincidence their line-up mirrors that of such successful guitar/drum duos as The White Stripes and The Black Keys, but at the same time reminds more of artists like instrumental rock guitar pioneer Link Wray, garage rock cult heroes The Sonics, punk-blues visionaries The Gun Club and fellow twosome Flat Duo Jets. And in the end, they've fashioned a singular sound that is like no one else but themselves.
"It's hard to describe," admits Carmen of their style. "It has some punk elements, some garage rock things, some folk. But mostly what we just try to sound like is just blues. I mainly create songs that I think would make Paulette Goddard, if she were alive, want to be my wife." And even though the sweetness and naiveté underneath it all is matched by raw and raucous dynamic tensions that create what the San Antonio Current calls "spectacular high points," the aim of The Copper Gamins is to fashion the musical equivalent of a Chaplin silent film: Something "really simple and really beautiful."
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'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.