Forget Area 51 and Roswell—those hotbeds of paranormal activity ain’t got nothin’ on the psychedelic swamp- gas hoodoo of “Gonzales Lights,” Five’s comically cosmic first track.
Launched with a lusty field holler—“My cousin was never right / After she saw the Gonzales lights!”—it snakes into a bluesy invocation of Janis Joplin and the Dead dropping acid into the water at an infamous Prairieville concert in ’69 that conflates local bayou legend with a pantheon of Baton Rouge characters. Swamp popper Wayne Toups flicks a cigarette into the marsh gas that ignites the extraterrestrial lights, which swing hard into country twang while they illuminate Jimmy Swaggart’s cross and refract rainbows over Joe Tex’s glass house. Then the band downshifts into swampy R&B and bluesman Tabby Thomas hexes the lights away as “bad for liquor sales.” But they return, with a vengeance, borne aloft on a wave of psychedelic guitar, as the cousin pleads: “Take me home, Gonazales lights!”
Yowser! It’s terrific introduction to The Rakers and their deep roots in Baton Rouge—especially if, like me, you’re new to this “thinking man’s drinking band,” and are just catching up with them on Five, their aptly-named fifth release. And the rest of the album delivers as well.
Fronted by singer-songwriters Alex V. Cook and Lance Porter, the five-piece unit is as tight as the skins of Anna Byars’ drums after six years of playing with guitarist Leon LeJeune and bassist Lewis Roussel, a luthier who makes many of the band’s instruments. A roots-rock band with roots as gnarly as a live oak, The Rakers shift seamlessly from the rockabilly roadhouse of “How I Knew I Wasn’t Country” to the mournful elegiacs of “Bad Penny,” a meditation on jinxes, and let their Clash flag fly with the collisions of “Problematic.” They even nail an obsessive power-rock ballad with “Your Eyes Are Mine.” For the full Rakers’ effect, blast Five in your car like you’re driving the back roads of Ascension Parish no matter what highway you’re on.