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The Dustbowl Revival kicks off Scripps’ series

The Dustbowl Revival is making a mid-career pivot. The acclaimed Venice, California band—which plays a free outdoor show Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Scripps College’s Bowling Green—released its new self-titled record last Friday, and fans may be surprised to hear some of the new flavors in the grooves.

“It’s funny because I feel folks are definitely saying that, but I feel like within the band it’s been a much more natural progression,” said guitarist/vocalist Zach Lupetin, the Chicago transplant who founded the band 10 years ago.

Mr. Lupetin sees why those on the outside may perceive the new record, Dustbowl’s fifth, as an expansion on the band’s well established palette: eight pieces, with acoustic instruments and a horn section doing a unique and infectious version of roots music under layers of delicious harmonies. But the truth is the influences have always been there.

“I feel like we’ve started accessing some of this more soul and funky kind of stuff for the last several years and have maybe not necessarily put it down in recorded form,” Mr. Lupetin said. “So this is sort a lot of bottled up energy harnessed into this new record.”

Dustbowl Revival was guided by Grammy Award-winning producer Andy Hutt. Mr. Hutt, a founding member of Celtic punk titans Flogging Molly, won a Grammy for his work on Old Crow Medicine Show’s 2014 record, “Remedy.” He’s also stewarded career-altering discs for Lucero, The Bouncing Souls and the Dropkick Murphys. The result is a polished but not sanitized; it’s a cleaned up version of the band, for sure, but the warm, soulful energy and bristling musicianship remains. The album’s 11 tunes are crisply rendered, with Mr. Hutt’s interesting sonic choices bubbling up throughout.

“Busted,” the record’s first single, is sultry and funky with a gigantic chorus hook. It’s leans much more toward the retro soul vibe of the late Amy Winehouse than the group has previously ventured. The second single, “Honey, I Love You,” features vaunted three-time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’. It’s a bluesy, pop confection that winds its way from New Orleans on up the Mississippi Delta, and is just the kind of hybrid that Alabama Shakes, Lumineers, Head and the Heart and the Avett Brothers have mined over the past few years to great effect. 

To those unfamiliar, perhaps a fun jumping off point would be the band’s 2015 single, “Never Had to Go.” The video, featuring Dustbowl Revival fan Dick Van Dyke cavorting and clowning in his inimitable way to the bouncy, folksy, sing-along tune, has been viewed nearly four million times on YouTube. It’s life affirming to watch the then 89-year-old national treasure enjoying himself so enthusiastically while the band belts it out on the patio of his home.

And of course there’s “Lampshade On,” the frantic party anthem that has inspired fans to show up for concerts wearing their own lampshades. It’s all in good fun, Mr. Lupetin said.

“It’s sort of like our mascot, that song,” he said. “I always joke it’s like our ‘Oblidi-Oblida,’” The Beatles’ 1968 hit, “It makes little to no sense but you get it somehow.”

Monday’s show at Scripps is special for a lot of reasons, Mr. Lupetin said, not the least of which being Claremont was an early supporter of the group’s big, brassy sound. The band had a regular gig at the now-closed Hip Kitty.

“When we first started about nine years ago, Claremont was one of our favorite places to play. It was just one of those things where they gave us a shot when we were playing more folky jazz stuff. We played three sets-a-night, and people were just so encouraging to us and so nice. We played the Folk Music Center a few times and that was great.”

Getting those who know only the “Lampshade” side of the band to buy in to the new direction can be challenging, Mr. Lupetin said.

“There’s a double-edged sword to being known as a good time party band. We sometimes play theaters or places that allow us to stretch out and play these quieter, more harmony-based songs, “?he said. “And sometimes audiences don’t want to sit through it. They want to get up and move. So it’s kind of a work in progress as far as us integrating some of the new, quieter songs with the big rockin’ showstoppers.”

The timing for the new collection seems excellent.

“One could only hope,” Mr. Lupetin said. “I think you forge ahead regardless of what’s happening around you. Obviously we’ve been inspired in certain ways by these really cool hybrid bands that are hard to define but have really found their own niche.”

The band has opened shows for groups ranging from Lake Street Dive to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

“You see these old-timer guys playing this hallowed New Orleans style jazz, and they’re playing Bonaroo [the long-running Tennessee music festival] the next week. I think there is the place in mainstream culture for roots music and Americana music. It’s really blossoming. It’s not maybe at the Taylor Swift level, but there’s a passionate fan base that has an open mind for bands like us that make their own music and don’t necessarily fit any pop/MTV mold.”

Mr. Lupetin is ambitious, to be sure, but playing basketball arenas is not what he has in mind.

“I look at it from a more practical standpoint,” he said. “The goal is to be able to make your art and have people support it, and build communities around the world that can appreciate and love the music you make—to have people everywhere you go who love it and can get joy from what you do.

“That’s something that may never happen, or it may happen in only certain places, but I feel like there’s a lot of really great bands out there, there’s a lot of really beautiful venues and festivals, and we might as well be one of them. Eventually the next group of headlining awesome bands has to come up. We’ve put the time and money and sweat and tears…”      

The Dustbowl Revival plays a free show Monday, June 19 at Scripps College’s Bowling Green, 1030 Columbia Ave., Claremont.

—Mick Rhodes



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