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bob walkenhorst

Album review: The Rainmakers - Monster Movie

One would think that if any KC band has a right to rest on its laurels it would be The Rainmakers. Members of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame and arguably Kansas City's best known band—both nationally and internationally—Bob Walkenhorst, Pat Tomek, Rich Ruth, and Jeff Porter don't really have anything left to prove musically. Their catalog of songs speaks for itself. Fortunately for us all, this band has no intentions of going through the motions.
The Rainmakers’ latest album, Monster Movie, is a case in point. Recorded in less than two weeks at Tomek's home studio, this is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders. The opening song (which I wish I could play on the radio) is called “Shithole Town” and it starts out like a crowd-clapping sing-along, then morphs into a country-tinged tale of backwoods/back roads folks, bad country music, and small towns. Then it shifts gears again as the music moves from a country feel to a rock and roll song; as the story changes and moves forward, the music does, too. Like other great American songwriters such as John Fogerty and Tom Petty, Walkenhorst knows how to make the words and the rhythm of a song come together in ways that complement both. He also has the unique experience of having played in venues with large audiences and he's learned what kinds of songs are big enough to keep a large mass of people not only interested but moving to the beat of the song, and, if you listen closely to the words, you realize there's depth and poetry there as well.
The title track started out as something quite different. In an interview on my radio show (Signal To Noise on KKFI) last Sunday, Walkenhorst had this to say about the title track:
“‘Monster Movie’ was a title I threw around. I thought ‘Monster Movie’ would be a really funny song. I thought it would end up—you know—being something about bad monsters and bad scientists and all that. Songs have a mind of their own. You can start with an idea of how a song is going to go and the song will suddenly rear its ugly head and go… ‘No, I'm gonna be THIS!’ So this became more of a very blunt, social criticism kind of song.”
In the tradition of songs like Creedence' s “Fortunate Son” and Steppenwolf's “Monster,” “Monster Movie,” to lots of folks, is an apt metaphor for America today. “In our monster movie/these monsters are real,” the song goes.
The album also features contributions from drummer Pat Tomek, who provided the poetry that became the lyrics to “Who's At The Wheel,” a lovely conspiracy song with Creedence-like chooglin' guitar work from Walkenhorst and Porter. Like fellow Missouri resident Chuck Berry, who wrote similar Americana-themed songs, this song takes a wry look at human foibles and Internet-fueled paranoia.
The new guy in the band, Jeff Porter, also brings a couple of tunes to the album, a co-write with Walkenhorst called “Save Some For Me,” which has a folk rock feel aided by Porter’s music and a great acoustic riff; and his own composition, “Believe In Now,” which is a mid-tempo, introspective song with a lalalala chorus that brings back memories of The Kinks from their “Arthur” period.
The album ends with a catchy song about a club in the town where Walkenhorst grew up, called “Swinging Shed.” Having grown up with the first generation of rock and rollers, I always like it when someone references music from the early ‘60s. This sounds as catchy as something by Chris Kenner or Freddy Cannon, and I'm a sucker for it every time.
This is the sound of a band that is comfortable with itself and dares to still care about what can be done musically. I asked the band on the show how they all get along after all these years. Walkenhorst responded thusly: “You may have been chasing a dream—an idea of what you thought a successful musician was—and then, when you get past that, and you're still a human being and you're still a musician, then you relate to each other on much better terms.”
The Rainmakers return to the stage Saturday night at Knuckleheads. When you hear the new songs from this album played live, I think you'll find this band hasn't missed a step after all these years and still has something important to say. And, you can still dance to it, too.
You’ll get a rare chance to see The Rainmakers in KC tomorrow night, May 17, at Knuckleheads Saloon. The Nace Brothers will be opening up for them. Facebook event page. Also, if you tune in to The Bridge 90.9 today at 5 p.m., you can hear an interview and an in-studio performance from the band!

--Barry Lee

Barry is the host of Signal To Noise, which airs on KKFI 90.1 FM every Sunday night at 8 p.m. In his spare time, he's Station Manager at KKFI. 


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