From frigid Minnesota, where even hepcats better have down jackets, comes one of the freshest, finest, least-stylized and most creative acts in rockabilly today.

Sound preposterous? Well, let's not forget that the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" has already produced its fair share of turbo-charged rockin' rebels -- hallowed acts including Eddie Cochran, The Fendermen, The Trashmen, and Marvin Rainwater. Sure, it's been a while since their heyday, and other musics have ruled the roost in Minnesota -- and the nation, for that matter. We've had the righteously angry folk-rock of Bob Dylan, the salty and authentic blues of Koerner, Ray & Glover, the fretboard fireworks of Leo Kottke, the homey folk of Garrison Keillor and his crowd, the paisley funk of a short fella once known as Prince as well as the D.I.Y. punk of Husker Du, the Replacements, and Soul Asylum. Minnesota music was booming, yet there wasn't a ducktail or pompadour in sight. For shame.

But the lean years of Twin Cities rockabilly have ended with a bang, as this fearless foursome displayed on their last laser effort, The Stimulating Sounds of The Vibro Champs. Perry Mason himself couldn't have made a stronger case for the breadth and vitality of hopped-up bop music in the '90s. This here splendiferous sophomore serving from The Vibro Champs proves that their Stimulating Sounds session was no fluke.

There's a vibrant rockabilly underground in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and The Vibro Champs guitarist/singer Dave Wolfe -- the boy with the stiletto sideburns -- is at the center of it all. He's booking bands, promoting shows, putting together compilation CDs, nagging bar owners to take a chance on "roots" music, and even playing co-social director at Rockabilly Bowling night -- I kid you not. Most importantly, Wolfe and his partners in happy crime -- ex-tough guy Alan Subola, bull fiddle teaser-pleaser Emmet Keefe, and drum dynamo Gaz Weiss -- are tearin' it up on stages all across the U.S.A.

Stranger Than You Think represents a hip distillation of the band's best new work. You get a bit of blue-eyed R&B, some stray surf licks, a smidgen of jazz, and some moonshine country crooning. Plus plenty of inspired lunacy, especially on the unlisted tracks. But, it's ultimately rockabilly with a capital "R" that'll make The Vibro Champs listeners stand up and cheer.

You want retro? Check out the 1000 garage bands ineptly recycling Velvet Underground moves. You want a "roots" sound that's decidedly '90s? Then slap on Stranger Than You Think, and get ready to get buzzed. Tingled. Vibrated through and through. Shout bamalama and breathe hard, baby.

Tom Surowicz,
freelance writer and barfly.

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