Every once in a while an album comes along that you can tell the extra effort was put out to make it right. It’s far beyond just a collection of songs, it unfolds like a story, with all the songs together becoming stronger than the sum of their parts. Its an album that shows patience and wisdom. There’s a grand vision, and more importantly, that vision is realized in the final cut. Deguello Motel is one of those albums.
The inspiration for Deguello Motel may have been thirty years of hard living, but the approach was a sober one. The first challenge was for Roger Alan Wade to get sober. The second challenge was to see if he could write a song that way. But that wasn’t enough for Wade. He had something to prove. “He was good till he kicked the drinking and drugs” is how the cliche goes. Years of prejudice and misguided notions were waiting to be quashed. Wade quashed them, and then kept moving. He wasn’t satisfied proving the notions wrong, he wanted to prove that the opposite was right.
Wade is a high caliber journeyman songwriter, whose penned a #1 hit for Hank Jr., as well as songs for Willie, Waylon, George Jones, and others. His personal career however has been mostly songs with irreverent humor. Deguello Motel catches people looking the other way. You keep waiting for the next song to be the goofy one, and it never comes, adding gravity to the songs, making you perk up and pay attention, saying to yourself, “This is serious stuff.”
I will put the songwriting of this album up against any. Bring your classic 70’s Texas songwriters, bring the best from BMI’s stables. It starts off with the title track that keeps impressing you with its wit at every turn.
There’s an old Mexican dirge, this place is named after. And I heard it once in a box office disaster. The duke told his boys, said it means “leave or die.” I don’t know much Spanish, but John Wayne don’t lie.
And I live in a room with a green radio, curled in the womb of a 29 year low. Four walls from heaven and one sin from hell. In room 17 at Deguello Motel.
The next song “Rock, Powder, Pills,” keeps it going, with a biting soul, and an edginess that would appeal to street rappers just as much as cocaine cowboys or heroine sheiks. That’s right. What, did you think all this sober talk meant that this album didn’t have an edge? On the contrary. The “I Saw The Light” stuff might be coming from Wade, but for now, it is fighting fire with fire, and telling the hard, cold, ugly truth, with a poet’s wit and wisdom. This album is like a catharsis, with the lyrics like toxins being purged out in all their candid rawness.
Morning breaking on the street. Baby’s sick on potted meat. Sally’s begging John for more. Tired of licking specks up off the floor. Neighbor look like Dr. Dre. He says “Tough guy you wanna play?” John digs out a wad of bills. Rock powder pills. SHOOT. Rock powder pills.
Yeah rock crushes powder, powder covers pills, pills cut the rock till it’s time to burn to kill.
As impressive as the first two songs are, my favorite of the album is “Ruins of Paradise” where Wade bears all, singing with such emotion, such conviction you wonder if he can hold it together till the end, with deep breaths punctuating the pain in lyrics not afraid to bear weakness. It also shows Wade’s adeptness with chords and changes to create the mood; a trait of Roger’s music that can be overlooked because of the mesmerizing nature of the words.
The heart of the album is restless, with lots of movement and lost love, and running from past mistakes. Themes and characters are introduced and revisited. Songs like “Dequello Lullaby,” an addiction-infused nursery rhyme that does an excellent job of painting the absolute submersion that a life of sin endures, reminds you this is all taking place in the “leave or die” atmosphere of addiction.
One thing that could have improved this album would be fleshing out a few songs with a full band. That might have helped sell the concept even more. But even just with Roger and his guitar, Deguello never gets boring like some acoustic solo albums can. And that’s the fun of being a songwriter: you create the skeleton, and then other performers can come in and elaborate.
In the final song “3rd Chance Blues,” Wade cans all the indirect language and illustrations, and spells it out cold. Something he pointed out to me when I interviewed him in April was that he never uses curse words in his songs. You think he would with songs like “Poontang” and “Butt Ugly Slut,” but like Seinfeld, he felt cursing was the easy way out. With the final song he breaks this tradition, to say what he needs to say.
I had to give up what I was good at, and get back down to good things. I quit that shit before it killed me, but not before it made me not wanna bend them guitar strings.
This simple life it suits me, my dreams are wild, my mind is strong and clear. Truth is I just got sick of dying, ain’t no telling what kind of shit you’re gonna hear.
I wouldn’t walk away with the impression that this album is preachy. Wade may preach to himself, or about himself, but you’re too busy enjoying the album to feel like he’s preaching to you, or trying to. He is singing about his experiences, and songs like “Honkey Tonk Rose” and “Old Dixie Highway” are just good old country songs that only follow the recovery theme loosely.
Deguello Motel is THE album from Roger Alan Wade, the one that brings him out of the shadow of being Johnny Knoxville’s cousin or a writer of silly songs, and puts him in the company of people like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt as a premier songwriter.
It may have taken Wade 30 years to get here, but however long it was going to take, Wade, and the world, are better for it.
Two guns up. Five stars. 9.7 on a 10 scale.