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edge staff writer


Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems have made the party album of the year

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A fresh blast of good time rock and roll has been cascading from my speakers for the last week thanks to the band Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems. Listening to the Portland-based outfit’s new LP, “Still Dirty,” is the sonic equivalent of opening your windows for the first time after a long cold winter.

Rodgers says his new album’s party vibe kind of happened by accident, but he’s thrilled at how well it’s being received by listeners who hear it as a soundtrack to the party after the storm.

“Still Dirty” was released on Wicked Cool Records, the indie label operated by Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on Sirius XM. The band members produced the album collectively.

Pianist Rodgers has been fronting The Dirty Gems, which includes drummer Craig Sala and guitarist Tom Hall, for more than a decade. Bassist Ryan Halliburton joined them about 5 years ago. Rodgers is a touring and recording veteran of a number of rock and power pop acts, including The Connection, The New Trocaderos, Bullet Proof Lovers and the Kurt Baker Band.

Rodgers tells The Maine Edge that “Still Dirty” was in the works for more than two years and that it feels kind of surreal to him now that it’s out.

“I woke up this morning, looked at Spotify, saw the album and couldn’t believe it,” an enthusiastic Rodgers said on his album’s release day. “It feels great. We thought this album would be out more than a year ago.”

“Still Dirty” is the second full-length album from Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems. The prolific group has also released six EPs and a number of singles.

The album opens to great effect with the sound of a vocoder, or “talk-box” as Peter Frampton fans might recognize, on “She Likes to Party,” a dance rock anthem adorned with horns that showcases each band member at their best.

The Motown-esque “I Can Still Feel It” is the first single from “Still Dirty” and a song Rodgers says is mostly autobiographical. He says it’s about getting caught up in the excitement of the journey he’s on.

“Can’t Give It” is what Rodgers thinks a mash-up of David Bowie with The Supremes might sound like. It’s another example on this record of how Rodgers and the Dirty Gems were inspired by musical giants of the past.

“There was a lot of pulling from influences to make this the record what it is,” Rodgers said, adding that he’s constantly inspired by his musical heroes but that his bandmates tastes are probably even more steeped in vintage rock and roll.

“As the youngest in the band, I get taught lessons all the time,” he said, citing an example that inspired the Smokey Robinson-like “Don’t Turn Around.”

Rodgers said a conversation with Ryan Halliburton about how the group might come up with a sort of Motown-inspired song resulted in the bassist creating the foundation for “Don’t Turn Around” in less than 24 hours.

A similar occurrence unfolded, Rodgers said, when guitarist Tom Hall suggested some of the horn parts on the album be arranged like those of the band Chicago.

Rodgers says “Still Dirty” is the group’s most collaborative effort yet. Four of the album’s 10 tracks were co-written with Hall and Halliburton, including “She Likes to Party.”

“I think that collaboration really contributed to the diversity you hear on this record,” Rodgers said.

Speaking of that diversity, as I listened to the Latin-tinted “Tortuga” for the first time, I made a note that would make no sense to you until you hear the song: “space-aged salsa fiesta.”

“That’s what we were going for,” Rodgers said with a laugh about the song named after the Spanish word for turtle, with its vocal refrain inspired by the original Star Trek theme. Interestingly, Rodgers said “She Likes to Party” was originally “Tortuga” and that the band intentionally kept one of those lines in the song as kind of an Easter egg.

The moving “Across the Galaxy,” and the album’s meditative closing cut “See You Again,” were written after the death of Rodgers’ father. Both songs are enriched with arrangements that begin contemplatively and gradually expand with multiple hooks, bridges, and what sound like carefully composed guitar solos from Tom Hall.

“(Losing my Dad) was a very surreal experience that put at least one of the lights out in my world,” Rodgers said of the genesis for the songs, adding that the band went on tour four or five days after his father’s passing because that’s what his Dad wanted.

The record’s sole cover is a stunning version of Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot,” a song Rodgers said he’s loved since he was a kid and has always wanted his band to play. Performed mostly live in the studio, Rodgers said the song has become a staple of his band’s live set.

Kris Rodgers and the Dirty Gems will next perform at Portland Lobster Company on August 8 with further shows scheduled there through October. They plan to hit the road for shows in and out of Maine beginning in November.

Rodgers says he and his bandmates in The Dirty Gems took some chances on this record they wouldn’t ordinarily take but he believes those risks were worth it.

“The vision I have for this record is that people listen, crank it up and just have a good time, and I hope that’s the vibe people get from it.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 28 July 2021 08:06


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