If the release of their self-titled 2016 debut album and 2017 EP allowed Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen to establish themselves as a unique and burgeoning force in the blues community, their upcoming record has allowed them to spread their sonic wings.
“Break It Down,” the second full-length LP by the Wilkes-Barre blues-rock power trio, is scheduled for release on June 1, and the record takes the guitar-heavy, hard-edged sound, which the group has made its signature, for a progressive turn. In celebration of the release, the Gentlemen will perform at the F.M. Kirby Center on June 2.
The first thing that’s apparent on “Break It Down,” is that the Gentlemen, led by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Dustin Douglas, threw the rule book out the window.
“Bending the rules, that’s always been our thing,” Douglas said Monday in a phone interview. “In no way is this traditional blues; we are a blues-rock outfit. And people tend to gravitate toward that, especially at a blues festival with traditional stuff all around.”
But even for a band that’s made its name blending genres, the volume expresses a new set of ideas and sensibilities and a seemingly complete willingness to let nothing be off limits.
“The self-titled record was mostly written by me. This is more of a full-band collaboration,” Douglas said, crediting bandmates Tommy Smallcomb and Matt “The Dane” Gabriel in the band’s progression. “We pulled from upwards of 30 pieces and full songs and riffs and items. We wanted to write our asses off and choose from the cream of the crop, thinking it would be easier, but it ended up being more of a task. In the end, it really benefited us, because it’s some of the best stuff we’ve ever done.”
Opening track “A Little Bit” leads with a distinctly hip-hop drum and bass sound before giving way to screeching blues guitar.
“We wanted to step outside the box and out of our comfort zone,” Douglas said. “That track, for a long time after it was demoed, was titled ‘hip-hop song.’ “It has that groove to it. I love hip-hop grooves; that’s never far of a stretch for me. I think it began with the drums, and then the bass line was written. The guitar groove is there, but it’s not a guitar-driven song, which makes the guitar stand out a bit, because it’s more abrasive when it comes in.”
Mid-track tune “Goodbye,” except for a hint of Southern slide guitar, departs from traditional blues altogether.
“Goodbye is one of my favorite tracks on the record,” Douglas said. “That’s definitely the rock side of us, for sure. It’s played in open G tuning, so it has that Black Crowes and Faces feel to it. It’s my ode to old school R&B-influenced rock ‘n’ roll.”
One of the most immediately catchy songs on a record full of memorable riffs is “My Time Is Precious,” which sounds composed of equal parts bouncy Stevie Ray Vaughan blues and poppy Prince funk.
“The funk aspect is definitely something that creeps into our writing a lot,” Douglas said. “I love the way that funk feels. That feels really comfortable for us.”
“Ain’t No Denyin’” is the ballad of “Break It Down,” showcasing Douglas’ lyrical side, addressing the current social turbulence in America.
“It’s not too political, but we kind of have to stick together, because no matter what class you are or where you stand politically, we’re in a crazy time right now. Lyrically, I like this song because it carries more of a message than some of the other tunes.”
In an almost prog-rock display, “Tragedy” presents another experimental venture for the Gentlemen.
“It is totally a new territory for us,” Douglas said. “That was a riff Matt had for many years, and he brought it to rehearsal. Matt started the ball rolling. It’s almost a strange song that it’s even (ours). It’s definitely a ride not only for the listener but for us. It’s refreshing because it’s different.”
The album, Douglas said, is a portrait of the band at this moment in time.
“Even though it has a lot of different elements, I feel it’s the most cohesive album I ever wrote,” Douglas said. It’s not going to be the last, and it’s not the first, but it’s where we are now; this is a photograph of that.”
Fans who have identified with the band’s previous work need not worry; “Break It Down” is still full of delightfully irreverent blues-rock showcasing Douglas’ adept instrumentation and the seamless rhythm work of Smallcomb and Gabriel.
Excited for the year ahead, the Wilkes-Barre musicians are looking forward to an album release show on their home turf.
“We’re a band that loves to play live, and we love to play our hometown. Will (Beekman) and everybody at the Kirby, I’m still in awe that they allow us to go in there and do this,” Douglas said of the venue’s executive director and staff. We’ve been rehearsing the new record-cycle show, and we’re thrilled to put it in front of people.”
Following the June 2 show at the Kirby, Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen will perform June 5 on 105 and 103.5 The River’s “Music on the Menu Live” with Alan K. Stout at Breakers at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Township.