Formed in the early ‘80s by ex-Dictators guitarist Scott Kempner, the Del Lords combined elements of ‘60s garage rock with country, blues, and folk influences to become one of the initial progenitors of roots rock. Kempner recruited former Joan Jett guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, bassist Manny Caiati, and drummer Frank Funaro, and the Del Lords released their first disc, Frontier Days, on Enigma/EMI in 1984. The album was noted for its guts, street smarts, and twangy guitars, a balanced blend of Springsteen meets Johnny Thunders. Their follow-up Enigma/EMI release, Johnny Comes Marching Home, found Pat Benatar producer Neil Geraldo at the helm. While the band had became tighter, Geraldo applied a poppy gloss that seemingly toned down the grittier aspects of their debut. All the right elements fell into place by the time their album Based On a True Story was released in 1988, with Geraldo commendably pulling back his slicker production technique, allowing the louder aspects of the band to break through. The album is also notable for the support of guest vocalists Pat Benatar, Syd Straw, Kim Shattuck, and Mojo Nixon.
The Del-Lords’ debut album, Frontier Days, sounded too sparse and didn’t kick hard enough, and the follow-up, Johnny Comes Marching Home, sounded too slick and was weighed down with clichéd 1980s drum and guitar sounds. In the grand tradition of Goldilocks, the band’s third LP, Based on a True Story, was where they finally got the proportions just right. While Neil Geraldo returned as producer after Johnny Comes Marching Home, he applies a much lighter hand on Based on a True Story, and Frank Funaro’s drums sound a lot more natural and have regained their natural hard-swinging grace on this set. A number of guest musicians were brought in for Based on a True Story, but this time they add new textures rather than cluttering the arrangements, and Johnny Powers’ wailing harp on “River of Justice”, Lenny Castro’s beatnik bongos on “The Cool and the Crazy,” and the uncredited but wildly honking sax on “Whole Lotta Nothin’ Goin’ On” are welcome additions that help the songs come alive. Mojo Nixon’s addled preaching on “River of Justice” is both hilarious and kicks up the song’s righteous energy, and if Geraldo pushes Pat Benatar’s backing vocals too high up in the mix, hey, they were married and she was probably working for free. And though Scott Kempner was always a fine songwriter, Based on a True Story is the most solid and consistent set of tunes he ever crafted for the Del-Lords, and whether he’s wistful (“Cheyenne”), righteously pissed-off (“Crawl in Bed”), taking a stand (“I’m Gonna Be Around”), or just getting goofy (“Whole Lotta Nothin’ Goin’ On”), he brings his A game. Hard touring had turned the Del-Lords into a tight, impressively powerful band, and they rarely sounded better than they did on Based on a True Story, with Kempner and Eric Ambel’s guitars roaring like a fine-tuned machine, and Funaro and bassist Manny Caiati laying down the rhythm with fury and precision. If they never made an album that quite captured the glory of their live shows, the Del-Lords never had a finer hour in the studio than on Based on a True Story, and it tells their story remarkably well.
01. Crawl in Bed
02. Judas Kiss
03. Ashes to Ashes
04. I’m Gonna Be Around
05. Poem of the River
06. The Cool and the Crazy
08. A Lover’s Prayer
09. Whole Lotta Nothin’ Goin’ On
10. River of Justice
Eric Ambel - Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards
Manny Caiati - Bass, Vocals
Frank Funaro - Drums, Vocals
Scott Kempner - Guitar, Lead Vocals