When Erik Koskinen's group gets on the backbeat and he sings, "You can take your job and shove it," you can almost feel a cold one in your hand. It's not for nothing that the second track on Koskinen's America Theater is called "Six Pack of Beer." The song's refrain, bragging about a sixer and a pack of smokes, is the perfect match for his voice, which retains a distinctive timbre whether he's slightly slurring (too much beer) or letting the words out long and slow (a drag on a cigarette).
The album's subject matter could probably be called "blue collar realism." The lyrics are full of well-chosen details that leave the workingman no better off than usual, but no worse off either. And Koskinen usually pulls off the trick of matching the accompaniment to the point of the song, though at times he does such a good job of creating a mood that when a song strays from it, it feels jarring. For instance, "Boomtown" has a chugging rhythm and quick, distorted guitar licks that animate the story of an explosive oil townbut then it ends, and the next sound offers the delicate high strings of the acoustic guitar opening of "Nobody's Girl But Mine." That isn't to say it's a bad song, just that it pulls you from the oil town too quickly.
Luckily, Koskinen's well-worn voice is always there as a guide. On "Confusion," it cuts through a swamp of palm mutes, tremolo and cynical lyrics and it arrives at the pretty album closer, "Slow Burn," which finds beauty in resignation. Thank god for beer and cigarettes.
Erik Koskinen plays the Top Hat Thu., Nov. 7, at 6 PM with Barbara Jean. Free.