Every so often, something pops up on the record charts that doesn’t conform to the rules. Such is the presence of the Tractors on the current country charts: They’re a rock ‘n’ roll band that at times sounds more country than anything on mainstream country radio today — in that respect they’re this year’s Kentucky HeadHunters. And while the members of the group aren’t ugly, they’re over 40 and not exactly Country Music Television-ready hunks.
No matter: Sunday at the House of Blues — the first of two nights there — the group in person more than lived up to the promise of its platinum-certified Arista Records debut album.
From Tulsa, at their best the Tractors are as representative of that area as the Rascals or Velvet Underground were of New York; the Neville Bros. of New Orleans; or the Grateful Dead of San Francisco.
The group’s music draws strongly at times from the Western swing tradition, as well as straight country and vintage rock ‘n’ roll.
Their set included two Hank Williams-associated songs (“Settin’ the Woods on Fire” and “Half as Much”), a Chuck Berry number (“Thirty Days”) that’s not worn out from overuse and a version of “Call Me the Breeze” that owes more to its composer — Tulsan J.J. Cale — than to Lynyrd Skynyrd, who popularized it among the rock set.
Their own material is of variable quality but some of the originals — leader Steve Ripley’s Hank Williams-Ernest Tubb pastiche “I’ve Had Enough” comes to mind — are quite good. Others are saved by their arrangements: “Doreen,” which evokes Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” and the group’s first hit, “Baby Likes to Rock it,” a generic boogie blessed by infectious group harmonies.
Musically, the Tractors are tops — with bassist Casey Van Beek and drummer Jamie Oldaker generating an easy groove like the Amazing Rhythm Aces used to do — and with strong work by guitarists Ripley and Ron Getman and pianist Walt Richmond. Added for the road are saxophonists Bud Deal and Mike Panno, with Fats Kaplin doubling on fiddle and accordion.