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The best rock band you've never heard of

July 07, 2009|By COLLEEN SEIDEL / Special to The Herald-Mail

Cage the Elephant is the best rock band you've never heard of.

The band is as versatile as it is eclectic, and it's got the musical chops to handle a range of stylistic formulas to create its distinctive blend of rock-punk-funk.

Fueled by the frenetic kinetic-energy force that is lead singer Matt Shultz, the boys from Bowling Green, Ky., have been working the self-manufactured tour circuit in an attempt to gain increasing exposure. It's been a year since the release of their self-titled debut. With performances at all this year's biggest music festivals, Cage the Elephant is on the verge of breaking big.

There isn't a single song that can serve as an introduction to the band's sound, but the two singles that came off the album first - "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" and "In One Ear" - are the band at its coherent best. It's no wonder these two songs were picked as singles - they're the strongest tracks on the disc and very catchy.

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"Ain't No Rest" begins with a Southern guitar twang which leads into Shultz's stories of encounters with ne'er-do-wells. These encounters force him to see the commonality of individual hardships. Shultz sings about picking up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a prostitute: "I said you're such a sweet young thing, why'd you do this to yourself? / She looked at me and this is what she said / There ain't no rest for the wicked / Money don't grow on trees / I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed / Ain't nothin' in this world for free." He delivers his words with deliberateness that is neither cheeky nor disengaged but lies somewhere in the middle.

Shultz's lyrics, however, on this song and others wouldn't be as effective or interesting without the guitar work backing him up. Shultz's brother Brad and fellow band member Lincoln Parish trade off riffs and melodies that push the songs' momentum like rock. But the boys fold in the groove and soul that makes Cage the Elephant's sound so addictive. "In One Ear" is a perfect example of just how hard these boys can rock when their best elements come together.

A guidebook of influences is evident throughout the rest of the album, from the Nirvana underlayings of "Back Stabbin' Betty" to The Stooges' chaos of "Free Love" to "Lotus" which would feel just as comfortable on a Red Hot Chili Peppers album. The band does a good job of incorporating their influences without flatly imitating them, and the result of such a studied repertoire combined with raw, fresh talent is an album that leaves you shouting "More, please!" when it's over.

To watch the video for their first single "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t99bpilCKw .

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