Jef Fretwell and The Detractors have dubbed their new brand of music "rural electric." "Rural" in that the guitar-playing lends itself to old-fashioned country and honky-tonk. And "electric" in that, in addition to vintage amplifiers, the band utilizes a 1974 Fender Rhodes electric piano. Most bands tend to forgo the vintage piano for newer, less cumbersome models, but the presence of the old piano is huge, says guitarist Fretwell.
"It's the sound that automatically gives the band a distinct sound," he says. "The digital keyboards don't make the same sound."
Fretwell and The Detractors will present their electrified, piano-driven country at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland.
The Detractors are bassist Dave Hampton, drummer Steven Lindley and pianist Dal Carver. The group, with the addition of Sage Meadows (The Maybe Sometimes) and Rich Diamond, started playing together 10 years ago as The New Autonomous Folksingers. The group, often pigeonholed as a bluegrass band, played regular gigs at the Wild Goose in Ashland, but as kids and careers came into the picture, the gigs became less frequent. In the past year, Fretwell and the others picked up where they left off — but with a new identity and a new sound.
Unlike smooth, Nashville country, The Detractors play edgier, Bakersfield country with a rock influence reminiscent of Merle Haggard. The group plays country "back when it was raw," says Fretwell.
"My approach to guitar-playing is a 40-year-old amplifier with one volume knob and no tone controls," he says. "I don't have any tricks other than to play the instrument and coax the sound out of it that I like."
While the former Folksingers borrowed songs from Merle Haggard, The Dillards, Dwight Yoakam and "Doc" Watson, The Detractors perform primarily original songs, depending on the length of the set.
When songwriting, Fretwell pays special attention to the rhythm of the lyrics, manipulating them so they are in sync with the rhythm of the music. Typical "another day another dollar," "take this job and shove it" and other working-class themes form the foundation of his lyrics, which he overlays with his own world views and life experiences.
"I tend to write songs that are built around an idea that is mimicry of old country radio songs," says Fretwell. "I like to think that I juxtaposed some broader ideas and slightly more complex song structure."
The Jeremy Hickman Band, a guitar- and mandolin-based bluegrass trio, will open the show at Alex's. Cover is $5. Call 541-482-8818.