Captain Americana

Elliot Randall knows the upside of down-on-your-luck

Elliot Randall and The Deadmen, with Randall pictured third from left.

Elliot Randall and The Deadmen, with Randall pictured third from left.

Elliot Randall and The Deadmen close the Rollin’ on the River concert series on July 30 at 6:30 p.m. Opening act is Guitar Woody and The Boilers.

Wingfield Park

300 W. First St.
Reno, NV 89501

Elliot Randall earns the tears in his beer. The San Francisco-based singer-songwriter has encountered naysayers who don’t believe an authentic country music artist can come from California.

“I always tell them, you want me to go through and name all the super accredited list of awesome country musicians from California?” he says. “I can start with Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakum, Gram Parsons. It goes on and on.”

Even if the California tradition isn’t convincing, Randall has a geographic trump card. Though he’s lived in the Bay Area since high school, he spent his childhood in North Carolina.

“It’s pretty real for me,” he says. “I try to be pretty personal when I’m writing. My father’s a cowboy … he lives in North Carolina, and he writes sad country songs, and he’s kind of a sad country guy. There’s a little bit of a tradition of melancholy in my family.”

That melancholic tradition carries on in Randall’s songs—down-on-your-luck stories he sings in a crisp tenor that sounds longer lived-in than his meager 27 years. A lot of country singers have to work hard to sound world-weary. Randall comes by it honestly.

“Songwriting has always come really naturally to me, and singing is always something I work on,” he says. “But I pride myself on my songs. What I’ve learned about music is … if you really get into an album and start digging it, the length of time you dig that album and how much you really dive in is, I think, a matter of the songs and the lyrics.”

Randall’s backing band, The Deadmen, boast a wrong-side-of-the-road dark Americana, outlaw country sound, full of woozy, heartbreaking pedal steel and slide guitar parts. The lyrics frequently mention dogs and pick-up trucks but without forcing it or sounding cheesy, and there’s not a lick of phony shit-kicking in the music.

The work of guitarist James DePrato is especially ear-grabbing.

“He’s a phenomenal guitar player,” says Randall. “It’s sort of a blessing I got so lucky to have such a great slide player. … We feature it on a lot of songs, and it’s definitely a good live element, too.”

The name of the band comes from the band members’ interest in other genres of music.

“You’d be surprised at the cross-section of all different kinds of music that met at country,” says Randall. “If you like soul music, you can find some of that in country, and certainly there’s a lot of that honky-tonk vibe in a lot of—as I’ve been educated by my band—in a lot of that early metal.”

So a metal name for a country band.

Elliot Randall and The Deadmen’s new album is Caffeine and Gasoline.

“I kind of wrote most of the material off of what it was like living on the road,” says Randall. “Those are the two necessities of living on the road: caffeine and gasoline. … It’s a collection of road songs. I like to think it’s good driving music.”

The album has a warm, intimate vibe. It was recorded on tape and primarily live in the studio. It has great sound, production, arrangements and performances, but, for Randall, these qualities are secondary.

“For me, songs rule everything,” he says. “Anything that doesn’t follow the story, any guitar part or bass part that doesn’t follow the story, if it’s out of line with the mood or what we’re trying to say—it makes it easy to edit, because you know when something’s clashing with the purpose of the song. … Great songs feel like they’re almost designed for that listener. I think about some of my favorite songs, and I think I’m the only who sees them that way, like no one feels them as deeply as I do.”

He cites Little Feat’s “Trouble” and The Eagles’ “Desperado” as two of his all-time favorites, and “Getting My Nerve Up” as one of the standouts on his new record.

The downbeat verses about one of the classic themes of country music, wanting to get drunk, contrast with a chorus that veers toward but doesn’t quite break out in uplift: “Fill your cup, but Lord, it ain’t enough, I’m getting my nerve up.”

Randall’s July 30 performance at Rollin’ on the River will be his first in Reno.

“I’m excited,” he says, with a rare laugh, “because I love to gamble.”