Long before there were other “River City” bands playing tired, Clash-like/Rancid-ish streetpunk out East, there was a little band of skinheads in Peoria, Illinois playing the tightest, cleanest Oi/streetpunk out there, if anyone cared to listen. Long before other such similarly titles bands got signed to major labels, the River City Radicals were putting out their own cassette-only releases that made 75% of what passed for Oi! back then look like drivel. But history is a dirty little whore of a mistress, and while the untalented are often rewarded, bands like the River City Radicals are overlooked. I am here to make sure they get noticed.
In all fairness, this release is quite old. The boys in the band are no longer the skinheads of old that recorded this album (although they still adhere to the same values and still cover such luminaries as Cock Sparrer, the Boys, the Clash, the Undertones, etc.) At the time of the recording, the band consisted of Frank Schapmire: guitar/vocals, Josh and Joe Schwindenhammer: guitar/vocals and bass/vocals, respectively and Tim Beck on drums and piano. Beck has since quit the band, and they are heading in a more rock-n-roll direction. Frank has, nowadays, much more of a Stones influence than the hooliganism of old. But things change, and often for the better. No matter, on to the album. The album opens with the anthemic rock-n-roller “Violence” which sets the bar for what’s to follow – clean guitars that rock (almost NOBODY is doing rock-n-roll guitar like these boys do) big choruses and multi-talented musicianship all around. Lyrically, it’s what you would expect from skinheads – working class odes to drinking, fighting, getting drunk and laid, but done so cleverly, with the nod of a cap and the wink of an eye. Just when you think you have them pegged, Frank and Josh always seem to have an ace up their sleeve.
My two favorite cuts occur early on into the album, cuts three and four, respectively, and are “Lady Luck” and “In Your Underpants” (love the chorus.) Both cuts utilize piano/organ, giving things a Mod/Power-Pop flavor, and a hammond-esqe elegance. This is an appropriate thing, considering it seems to be the direction the band is headed in at the present. (These days, they do a rocking live cover of “Makin’ Time” by the Creation.) Other top-notch cuts are “It’s All Over” a Cockney Rejects-style ’77 sing-along complete with Oi! Oi! Oi! background chants, “Hooligans Friend” which is straight-up backstreet Oi! and “Patriot” which explores similar territory. All in all, a great album that was overlooked by most labels, which was their loss, because this is one of the great skinhead rock-n-roll albums the Midwest has ever seen.
With this release being old, I wonder what the future releases will be like. Judging from the output of the past, the new stuff will be nothing less than grand. If you ever get a chance to see these guys live, do it, and do me a favor – request an old ditty called “Irish Spring” that Frank and company have since disowned, but trust me – it rocks…even if Frank thinks it’s crap. For info on how to obtain either of the first two River City Radicals releases, drop me an e-mail, you’ll thank yourself later.
Review by Sean Holland