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Expats Sodajerk return to Pittsburgh to release new album

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They must love leavin': Sodajerk
  • They must love leavin': Sodajerk

When Sodajerk founders Bucky Goldstein and "Poppa" John Tucker relocated from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, Ga., in 2005, they immediately felt welcome at two venues: Eddie's Attic -- "the only place in Georgia where you can get Iron City beer" -- and The Star Bar. The grimy Star Bar seemed especially homey to the two country-rockers: "They have, behind plexiglass, all this Elvis memorabilia, and there's a jukebox in there that only plays Elvis stuff," says Tucker. "There's Catholic candles, and a place you can kneel and pray."

Last week, Sodajerk returned to these two venues, playing release shows for the first CD they've made since the big move.

If the proliferation of pedal steels, fiddles and high-speed chicken-pickin' guitars on Sodajerk 2 are any indication, it seems Goldstein and Tucker have spent a lot of quarters on the Star Bar's jukebox, spinning "Blue Moon of Kentucky." They've also dusted off their Old 97s records. Hardly old-timey but not jarringly revisionist, Sodajerk 2 runs the gamut of country hybrids. There's the high-octane hoedown of "Fuck n' Fight" alongside tearjerkers like "She Must Love Leavin'"; the country-billy opener, "Head On Collision"; and the raucous western swing of "Carbomb (To the Heart)."

"The last record was a real rock-oriented record," Tucker says, "and we were like, 'Let's shift gears and see what kind of country record we can come up with, if we go out with that mindset.'" Adding to the twang are new full-time Sodajerk members Blake Parris, on bass, and guitarist Ben Drankin, recruited from the Atlanta music scene.

Sodajerk's musical style may seem a bit off target for Atlanta, known these days as a hotbed for hip hop and heavier rock acts like Mastodon. But Tucker says the group has discovered a strong Atlanta country-rock legacy, including a 1990s scene called "the redneck underground" that's never really gone away. "There's some other country bands," Tucker adds, "a lot of them maybe a little lighter in tone than us -- we definitely seem to be a little more rambunctious."

Still, many will wonder why Sodajerk left Pittsburgh in the first place. It's not like it's paying the bills in Atlanta -- the band members are all nine-to-fivers, with Tucker working at a drum shop and occasionally sitting in with cover bands for extra cash. In Pittsburgh, the band had enjoyed regular radio play on WYEP and WDVE and a certain degree of status, thanks to a Graffiti Rock Challenge win and other high-profile gigs. Most would be satisfied, even thrilled, with such a reception here.

"We decided we'd done really well for ourselves in Pittsburgh," Tucker says, "but we'd gone as far as we could go." Having won over Pittsburgh to a certain degree, the logical next step was touring. But they couldn't find players willing to take that challenge. "They all just thought, 'We'll just hang out in Pittsburgh and play, and eventually someone will come down and give us a million dollars,'" Tucker muses.

And then there were the Pittsburgh audiences. "Honestly, most people are just interested in sports," he says with a laugh. As early as 2002, the band had considered moving to Nashville.

So when Tucker's wife was offered a job in Atlanta in 2005, it seemed the time was ripe for a fresh start. The rest of Sodajerk visited to play a couple gigs, but ultimately only Goldstein fell in love with the city and made the move. While the experience has sometimes felt like starting over, "It is almost like having a mulligan. All the mistakes we made up in Pittsburgh, we knew how to avoid them when we started down here."

"We never want to discredit Pittsburgh, or have anyone feel like we turned our backs," Tucker says. "To us, it's still where Sodajerk was born, and it's still, in a lot of ways, home to us." Evidence of that sentiment abounds on Sodajerk 2, with songs like "Allegheny County Breakdown," and guest musicians including Pittsburghers Jim Relja on guitar and old WDVE buddy Randy Baumann on piano and Hammond organ.

This weekend marks Sodajerk's first local appearance in nearly a year, and the new lineup's first Pittsburgh date. In addition to the April 7 CD-release party, at Club Café, you can catch the band on the WDVE Coffeehouse at 9 a.m. Fri., April 6, and at 1 p.m., live on-air from WYEP's Community Broadcast Center (RSVP at www.wyep.org). That night, Sodajerk plays a pre-release gig at Magoo's in the North Hills (9 p.m. 9101 Perry Highway, 412-635-2300).

Sodajerk CD Release with The Mavens. 10:30 p.m. Sat., April 7 (doors at 10 p.m.). Club Café, 56-58 S.12th St., South Side. $7. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com

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