By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Denton bands don't exactly have an aversion to roots or regionalism.
That said, a bent blue note or shit-kicking shuffle is likely to raise eyebrows in these parts—if for no other reason than the very real fear that yet one more band is trying to put its own spin on "Texas Music." There are ways around this dilemma: for instance, South San Gabriel's ambient, stream-of-consciousness melancholy underwriting a plaintive pedal steel, or the garage-y intensity of The Drams' cowpunk, or The Heelers sounding a bit like Guy Clark on a Bob Mould kick.
But even country rock act Rodney Parker and 50 Peso Reward lets its rock literacy show with smart covers like Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City." Yeah, the 12-bar and the twang can be heard around Denton, but it's usually approached from unconventional angles.
Ryan Thomas Becker and Grady Don Sandlin find themselves and their duo, RTB2, squarely in this tradition. Last year's release, The Both of It, is by turns blues, indie, country and none of the above. As a guitar/drums duo, comparisons to The White Stripes and The Black Keys are inevitable, but both say the arrangement simply brings the best out in them.
"I don't care what other duos are doing," says Sandlin. "This is just what works for us." The two met 10 years ago while Sandlin was running sound at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio's open mic night. Since then, the duo has found itself in and out of several bands and now somewhat in demand as sidemen as well, performing with George Neal's band The Slow Burners and contributing to Audrey Lapraik's upcoming record. Sandlin's affection for the rootsier side of rock started with a jam band fixation but quickly turned into a love of much older music. "I was always trying to go back," he says, "asking things like, who the hell was Gary Davis?" Behind Sandlin's Watts-like backbeat, Becker's angular guitar work is raw and throaty, rooted in blues and punk but with the slightly twisted sensibility of Captain Beefheart. In person, Becker is thoughtful and soft-spoken; onstage he has the controlled intensity of a man on the verge. "His onstage persona is kind of stepping out of who he is socially," says Sandlin. Becker cops to this: "It's gotten to where it's therapeutic," he says. "I start to believe what is going on with the song, I start shaking, and when it's over I wonder why we've stopped." It's a kind of therapy Becker hopes to keep up long into the future. "I think we are greater than the sum of the two of us," he says. "The dynamic of this project is unlike anything we've ever done."