Poke is a hoot. Whether you’ll feel this 13-song studio album lives up to its pun title (or that this review does; the CD came out five months ago) depends upon your expectations of a roadhouse country band in a recording studio.
Featuring veteran Boise musicians such as frontman Brad Deteau and Johnny “Shoes” Pisano, Poke's album takes its guitar picking and upright bass plucking seriously. But these guys don’t take themselves too seriously. The group’s lighthearted, classic-style country is driven by Deteau’s baritone vocal drone and wink-and-a-smile stories about drinking too much, carting truck-stop babes across the Northwest and picking huckleberries.
Western swing drives Poke’s sound, but the band happily trespasses on remote pastures. “Owyhee” is Poke’s “Rawhide.” “Poke-a” is nothing more than an opportunity to bust out an accordion and write a polka song around a play on the band’s name. On “Sam,” Poke successfully channels the Ramones while sounding like the same ol’ country-loving, rockabilly-dabbling gang.
Still, there’s no escaping the cattle chute of the recording studio. Poke’s garage-band stylistic freedom herds this album along much more effectively than the contrived whoops and yee-haws in the background of several songs. Too often, it feels like a forced attempt to inject energy into the mix.
It’s impossible not to imagine Poke pounding out these songs on a bar stage. They’d be wilder, looser and quick enough to make the wheels rattle on the covered wagon. That way, the enthusiastic hollers would come from the crowd as well as the musicians.