- Kali Gonzalez
- American stars 'n' bars: The Beagle Brothers
Country songs are populated with feuding couples and lonely drunks, and they're set in bars wherein all those folks can often be found, drowning their problems. Local musicians The Beagle Brothers continue in that fine tradition, yet their songs' characters have a lot more depth than most down-and-out boozers.
In "I Started a Fire Down in the Valley," the protagonist realizes in the third verse that arson wasn't the best way to get his lady friend's attention: "In retrospect I must confess there could have been a better plan / the point I made might be conveyed in a singing telegram / or a few choice words explaining just how sorry that I am." That level of confessional insight, as well as a few plot twists, makes the Brothers' new All My Friends CD smarter than your average country album.
Although real brothers Gabriel and Noah Smith front the group, the band name doesn't refer to them. The name began with a rock band started over a decade ago in St. Mary's, Pa.; Gabriel played drums originally and Noah was a roadie.
"We always had this idea that we could do a rock 'n' roll set and a country set, like Hank [Williams] III was doing for awhile," says Gabriel, who now plays acoustic guitar, like his brother. "And we tried it out once and it sucked. The rock 'n' roll set was garbage."
While limited initially, their country repertoire was showing potential by the time the Smiths, along with longtime friend and bassist Kyle Kline, wound up in Pittsburgh, in 2005. They talked their way into a booking at Sonny's Tavern, a Bloomfield bar not exactly known for live music. The location fit them well because they weren't exactly a country band -- yet.
"We practiced -- no joke -- every single day for two months," Kline says. "Because we had 20 minutes' worth of stuff and we needed [to play for] three hours."
The preparation paid off. The beer flowed endlessly that night -- a factor at nearly all Beagle Brothers shows these days -- and the trio met Sam Cooper, whose lead guitar gave them the confidence to keep this Pittsburgh branch of The Beagle Brothers alive. Jeff Ritter later joined as second lead player, bringing the number of guitarists to four. Although Cooper moved to Washington, D.C., earlier this year, Reed Connolly has stepped in on dobro and lap steel. With Kline slapping away on upright bass, there's no need for a drummer.
The band is best known for its every-other-week residence at Howler's in Bloomfield, where they've hosted the Sunday Night Hayride since August 2006. What started as an open stage has generated a regular audience for shows that often include out-of-town acts joining them for a free buffet. "Ideally, we've been trying to build some type of community that's focused on this particular type of music," Gabriel says.
As for their ability to develop elaborate storylines in three minutes or less, the Brothers remain modest. "I think we like to defer to pop culture a lot in general," says Noah. "We steal ideas, like pop-culture references, but no one's noticed it yet."
Beagle Brothers CD Release. 9:30 p.m. Fri., June 19. Sonny's Tavern, 630 Millvale Ave., Bloomfield. 412-683-5844