Radials’ smooth ride belies rough travelouge

by Jordan Green

The Radials havebeen on a tear recently, and good fortune threatens to overtake thepathos of their sad and twisted honky-tonk universe. StephenCorbett and Shawn Patch, respectively the band’s singer and electricguitar player, began composing songs together last year, attracting theexquisite steel talents of relocated Ohioan Tom Beardslee and,subsequently, the rhythm section of Rodney Owen and Aaron Cummings.They’ve been in the studio with Doug Williams, who put himself on themap by recording the Avett Brothers, and have practically wrapped theirdebut album. They recently played their first all-acoustic set over theairwaves on 90.9 WQFS. They’re opening for their friends the CarterBrothers, a Nashville act with local roots, at the Blind Tiger for the4th of July holiday. And writing more songs. "We’ve sortof been in a flurry, Stephen and I," Patch says, while the band membershuddle at the vacant bar on the patio behind the Blind Tiger. "I’vecranked out five songs in the past couple weeks," Corbett says. "WhenI’m having a bad time personally I’m having a great time creatively."He references his wife. "Amanda, she swells with pride whenever I sing"How Much More Can She Stand.’ Literally she was sitting on the couchcrying and I was writing the song.’" For a band whose subjectmatter deals liberally with substance abuse and family dissolution, aRadials show is… well, something of a family affair. Patch’sexpectant wife is in attendance tonight watching the band. As isAmanda Corbett, whose parents are visiting from the mountains ofwestern North Carolina. The missus has been known to join the bandonstage to sing backup on the band’s novelty song, "Groovin’ In theBackseat," whose protagonist is crossing a liquor store parking lot toget a bottle when he stumbles across his woman with another manfornicating in an automobile. (It should be noted that the band makes apoint to try to find new guests to join them at each of their shows,and the song marks a joyous ritual of communion.) That was alsothe song that hooked Beardslee, whose musicologist wife brought him toGreensboro and who encountered Corbett and Patch playing an open mic atthe Flatiron last fall. "The first thing he said was, "That sounded like Steve Earle and Buddy Holly did time in the joint together,’" Corbett says. "Itwas really happy in a way these Americana folks are reluctant to be,but at the same time it’s dark and sick," Beardslee says. "Stephen’slike this redneck David Byrne." Apropos of the song "Demons,"Corbett’s stage presence has a bit of demonic quality. His brown hairis kept short and gelled to a subtle sheen while multiple earringsaffix his ears and a light moustache curves above his mouth reminiscentof Vincent Price. Most memorably, his eyes flash with demonic intensitywhen he chokes out a line of particular poignancy or perverse pride. Hehas stage presence to spare, from the green suit, the guitar strapadorned with a musical note and guitar neck lettered with the band’sname to the knee drop he performs at the end of one of the songs. Owen,in contrast, sways sinuously on bare feet as he draws out a fluidsequence of notes on his bass. Beardslee, with glasses and facial hair,possesses a kind of hipster-country slackness. Patch and Cummings lookthe part of everyman musicians. Corbett, like his hero GeorgeJones, specializes in songs about emotional damage. And he possessesthe kind of strangled whippoorwill vocal technique that balances on theknife’s edge between with naked confession and repressed pain. Thatposture is made all the more compelling by the fact that he isunfailingly courteous and hospitable in person. The protagonist insongs like "Smirnoff Morning" appears to be both fatalisticallyinclined towards self destruction and perversely thrilled at the notionof the impending train wreck. "There’s a lot more grief going onin this world than sunshine and good times," Corbett says after theconcert. "A certain amount of it is from experience; a certain amountof is exaggerated for effect. You have to keep the line blurred. Thatis not to say that my marriage is in shambles. You don’t want to singyour diary to the world. Beardslee is always saying, "What does thismean? What does that mean?’ I don’t want to give it away."