by Jordan Green
The Radials have experienced a gradual remaking since the departure of founding member Stephen Corbett, whose vocal warble put the element of twang into the band’s country-rock mix.
After a number of other personnel changes, guitarist Shawn Patch, the band’s other founding member, began assembling that lineup that would comprise the Radials’ second coming. Steel player Drew Wofford was the first to join. Drummer Justin Horth, who studied percussion at UNCG prior to a time in exile in his native England, nailed down the rhythm section. A bass player who put in work with the ’90s Triangle alt-rock group Jennyanykind, Thomas Royal also contributed songwriting and vocals to the Radials.
Patch was writing his own pieces, so he was looking for a female vocalist to record demos. Lisa Dames, a country artist who got her start paying tribute to Patsy Cline at the Barn Dinner Theatre, was a natural choice. Dames quickly picked up the material, and recorded four or five songs in an afternoon.
“The fact that she was punctual, prepared and was able to sing the material — I was sold,” Patch recalled.
Dames was equally enamored of the Radials.
“If you’re looking for a singer, I’m looking for a band,” she told Patch.
They held two auditions because they were unable to get all four members together in the first session. Patch thought it was important that everyone have a say in the decision. He also told Dames that if she joined, it would have to be on an equal basis without special billing. She readily agreed.
Patch said he remains in awe of Dames’ voice and stage presence.
“When she started performing with us, we’d catch ourselves saying, ‘I can’t believe Lisa’s singing with us,’” he said.
Dames’ background as an interpreter of the Patsy Cline canon together with Patch’s mastery of the country electric-guitar idiom, Royal’s spooky-pop sensibility and Horth’s dynamic rhythm gradually meshed into a new hybrid. The Radials’ sound is what each member brings to it, Dames said.
The final addition was Zach Tilley, a tousle-haired, young traditionalist who with more experience is easy to imagine as a frontman. Functioning as a kind of understudy, he contributes rhythm guitar and vocals to the band.
On a recent Friday night, the Radials gathered for a soundcheck at Blue Bourbon Jack’s in High Point before embarking on three sets starting at 10:30 p.m. and concluding about 20 minutes before closing time. The workaday crowd — boomers and young professionals, couples and free agents — was looking to blow off steam. They gave a respectful hearing to originals like “Rest My Head” and “Come On In,” and shrieked with appreciation for timeworn covers like “The Weight” and “Cinnamon Girl.”
During his vocal turns, as with a cover of the 1991 Brooks & Dunn hit “Brand New Man,” Tilley showed off a comfortable, broken-in voice.
Blue Bourbon Jacks’ is a proper music venue, one of only a few in the Triad. A long bar runs the length of a side room, opening out to a larger space allocated to the stage and dance floor. The clack of pool balls from running games in the back provides a rhythmic accompaniment to the music.
“This is the only place where we could finish a set, and they wouldn’t say, ‘Play some covers,’” Dames said. “To which I would say, ‘Pay us, and we’ll play whatever you want.’”
Patch added, “We play maybe eight covers to fill out our set. And I don’t feel dirty afterwards.”
The Radials’ multiple-input format played out during their Blue Bourbon Jack’s set with crisp, Flying Burrito Brothers-style crackerjacks like Patch’s “Rest My Head” and unexpected melodic twists in Royal’s material, best exemplified by “Lucite Jesus.” Dames and Royal teamed up for gale-force harmony vocals on the choruses of heartbreakers like “Now Is the Time,” sometimes joined by Tilley. Representing the Corbett era, they played “Groovin’,” an explosive rockabilly number about a cuckolded lover’s revenge. And in the third set, Mike Cusano, one of Dames’ old cohorts from the Barn Dinner Theatre, sat in on drums for a retro set from the Patsy Cline repertoire, including a fiery proto-rockabilly rendition of “Stop, Look and Listen” and a rocked-up version of the Bill Monroe standard “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
To paraphrase Jon Langford of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers, the Radials make music the way it was done before rock and roll, when your favorite band was likely the local guys who got together to play every Friday at your neighborhood bar. They’re like a classic car that gains value with the passage of time instead of the hot new model.
“We all have families,” Dames said. “If it’s a kid’s birthday, we turn down the gig.”
“We all get together at Shawn’s house,” Dames said. “We meet out in the shed after we put the kids to bed, have a couple beers and run through some songs.”