Gene the Werewolf has never been paid attention to trends. Nor has the Pittsburgh-based quintet been part of a scene or the hipster's band of choice. They are iconoclasts by virtue of their music, rock 'n' roll survivors in thrall to the genre's power and energy.
And they're damn good at it, even if they are a dying breed.
"It's strange to feel like you are one of the last of your own kind," says Gene, the band's dynamic frontman and lead singer.
Thus, The Loner, Gene the Werewolf's third studio album. In a perfect world it's music that should be blasting on car radios from Asbury Park to Hermosa Beach, on jukeboxes in dives and biker bars. Posters of the hirsute Gene and his bandmates — guitarist Drew Donegan, bassist Tim Schultz, drummer Nick Revak and keyboard player Aaron Mediate — should be on the walls of kids from Seattle to South Beach.
Put Gene the Werewolf on stage at the Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip or The Troubadour in West Hollywood in 1989, and they'd kill.
But times have changed. These guys don't have access to a time machine. The next best thing is an album like The Loner that takes you to those halcyon days when rock 'n' roll was hip and cool and fearless.
The album features 10 tracks of uniformly excellent quality. In a musical climate dominated by drip-feeding content, single-by-single, the band still takes great pride in making a conventional album.
"We wrote and demoed close to 25 songs for the album, so there was a lot of variety and unique ideas being kicked around," Gene says.
Those ideas were fleshed out at Red Medicine Studios in Pittsburgh, where producer Sean McDonald has become one of Western Pennsylvania's most respected musical alchemists. Having worked with The Clarks, Jim Donovan (formerly of Rusted Root) and many other of the best musicians in Pittsburgh, McDonald helped the band reach its full potential.
"It seems a cliché to say this, but Sean really was a sixth member of the band," Donegan says. "He worked as a songwriter, engineer and producer, elevating our craft to levels we didn’t think were possible."
There are no duds on The Loner. The first song, "The Walking Dead," is Gene's take on a zombie apocalypse and features two dazzling guitar solos by Pittsburgh native Reb Beach, who currently performs with Whitesnake. The final track, "The Best I Can" showcases the honky-tonk piano of Randy Bauman of WDVE-FM and slide guitar by The Clarks' guitar maestro, Rob James.
Sandwiched in between are eight songs that will satisfy the most discriminating rock 'n' roll fan. Check out the driving guitar of Donegan — part Ronnie Wood, part Mick Mars - on "Let it Loose." Listen to the way the rhythm section of Revak and Schultz shape and power "Fortune & Fame." Take note of the subtle accents Mediate adds on "A World to Rely On."
And then there's Gene himself, who is merely the best rock 'n' roll singer too many people have never heard. He sings, he wails, he screams, he hits notes that haven't been reached since Vince Neil was a pup. In a perfect world, he'd be a star, as would the band.
But we all know the musical world is a fragile, fragmented and damaged place where stars are manufactured, not earned.
Not that Gene the Werewolf cares about stardom. Give them a stage, let them play. That's all they want to do.