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Dead Fortune Want to Make Rock 'n' Roll Fun Again

Feb. 21, 2017
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Local Music: Dead Fortune
Photo credit: Max Cozzi

Of all the many theories posited about why rock ’n’ roll is no longer the cultural force that it used to be, one of the most convincing is also one of the simplest: Maybe rock ’n’ roll just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be. From its piano-pounding, kazoo-blowing, leg-kicking roots in the ’50s and ’60s, the once high-spirited music grew into something turgid and serious. It eventually became dominated by leather-jacketed dudes who seemed to be performing out of solemn, rote obligation. That may finally be changing.

Some of the most refreshing, acclaimed rock ’n’ roll bands of the last five years or so are the ones with the audacity to look like they’re enjoying playing rock ’n’ roll: Sturgill Simpson, Alabama Shakes, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and the like. That hasn’t been lost on Dead Fortune, a Milwaukee quartet that’s similarly stoked on those same sounds.

“We’re all really into the old classic bands—like, Levon Helm and The Band is a big influence, along with Bob Dylan and Van Morrison,” says bassist Max Cozzi. “So we wanted to do something along that vibe, but we also wanted to keep it kind of modern. I hate to use the word ‘pop,’ but we wanted it to be catchy; music that was fun to listen to. It’s not that our songs aren’t as much about the stories and the lyrics, because those are important, too, but it’s kind of about the groove and the feel of our songs just as much.” It took them a while to refine that approach.

They recorded an EP a few years back grounded in more or less the same hybrid of rock, country and soul, but they didn’t care much for how it turned out. “It wasn’t as hashed out as we wanted it to be,” Cozzi explains. “It didn’t have that same pop to it that our new sound has.” So they regrouped and rewrote some of the tunes and spent another year recording what would become their new self-titled album.

It’s an unabashedly giddy, up-tempo record. Guitarist/lead vocalist Luke Lilla (one of three Lilla brothers in the group) sings in an exclamatory drawl. The bass riffs are unabashedly funky. The guitars honky-tonk all over the place. There’s some skronky tenor saxophone on the record’s catchiest track, “All Night.” The record doesn’t attempt to artificially capture the aesthetic of late ’60s rock ’n’ roll records, yet like so many of the best albums of that era, it’s swift, punchy and unpretentious.

“I think there are a lot of acts trying to make their music some new, avant-garde, artistic kind of thing,” Cozzi says. “And that’s not to say there aren’t excellent musicians doing that, but when it comes down to it, I think people just want to hear some real rock ’n’ roll.”

Dead Fortune play an album release show Saturday, Feb. 25 at 10 p.m. at Company Brewing (735 E. Center St.) along with Young Revelators and Mumblemouth.

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