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The Blues Orphans reach beyond the blues on Root Rot

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The Blues Orphans
Root Rot
(SELF RELEASED)

In the 1980s, all the punks and Gen X alt-rockers heaped endless scorn upon Pittsburgh's established blues bands -- dinosaurs ossified in a dead-end genre and an age of steel gone by. Yet lo and behold, it's 25 years later and look who's stuck to their guns: a cadre of players who remain loyal to tradition while paralleling the younger generation's newfound pursuit of roots music.

The Blues Orphans seem poised to take advantage of this confluence on their fourth album, Root Rot. Sure, brothers Andy and Bob Gabig have slogged it out on harmonica and guitar since the late '70s. But the Gabigs have always reached beyond basic blues structures -- they easily drop country, bluegrass, zydeco, jam-funk, and even shades of rockabilly-punk and rap into the mix. Nelson Harrison (of Count Basie Orchestra) and Mark Custer (of River City Brass Band) add some hot horn licks.

Not all of it works -- the Orphans' mashup of Nirvana's "Come As You Are" with Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" falls a bit flat. But it's the thought that counts. And you can tell they think for themselves -- there's humorous social and political commentary on tracks like "Good Consumer," "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" (about immigration) and "Panic in the Cul-de-Sac," which even has a goofy Dead Milkmen quality to it.

What if these "old, bald white guys" (by their own admission) were to cross-pollinate with the hipper scene that's coalesced around folk-punk, alt-country, bluegrass and neo-cabaret? Think that bunch would rally around a Blues Orphans tune with lyrics like "the first word in Dubya is 'duh'"? (A song that's unfortunately not on this album, but available on MySpace for the kids). I'm betting that a fresh planting in some new soil would shake away the root rot.

Blues Orphans CD release. 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 9. Penn Brewery, 800 Vinial St., North Side. Free. 412-237-9400 x120.

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