In the 1980s, a Florida college professor (Robert Ray) and some of his students formed a band. One of the students (Dale Lawrence) moved back to his home state of Indiana where he formed a working version of the band. The pair continued to collaborate, exchanging cassettes via the mail.
In 1985 co-founder Walter Salas-Humara left the Boatmen to form the Silos, to critical and popular acclaim.
In July the Vulgar Boatmen and Walter Salas-Humara played shows in Chicago and Indianapolis.
Last November TimeChange Records marked the 25th anniversary of the Boatmen’s You and Your Sister album, remastered and adding bonus tracks. Produced by Salas-Humara, Lawrence and Ray’s songs recall the vocals of the Everly Brothers and blend keen lyrical observations that paint short stories into songs. The acoustic-based music has a driving feel that builds in hypnotic momentum.
“With a hat on her head tilted over her eye,” Lawrence sings in Margaret Says, placing the listener as an eves-dropper in an intimate conversation, as the band builds into a vamp that turns the song into a small movie about taking a drive and thinking about decisions that will affect the rest of his life. Drive Somewhere is the pastoral Midwest cousin to the Feelies, with the inherent lightness of being that separates a train song form a car song.
Think of this as head music. Inner dialogs, conversations that might never reach fruition yet just happened to get turned into lyrics and songs. The Boatmen never really struck it big (see the documentary Drive Somewhere: The Saga of the Vulgar Boatmen) yet twenty five years later You and Your Sister holds up as a minor masterpiece, recorded on a budget.
Walter Salas-Humara is no stranger to Wisconsin, having played countless gigs, house concerts, the Steel Bridge Song Festival in Sturgeon Bay, produced the Wooldridge Brothers album Uncovering the Sun and jammed righteously with the Carolinas.
In 2016 he released the solo lp Explodes and Disappears. He has over twenty solo, Silos and other collaborations to his credit, as well as a series of paintings. Like the Boatmen, Salas-Humara songs rely wonderfully on detail. Diner By the Train begins with Latin flourishes and unfolds before your ears.
If an artist works long enough he creates a body of work that allows the good listener to connect the dots. Working the Waterfront glances back to his earlier song Commodore Peter adding touches of soul music to the nautical theme. Salas-Humara’s catalog is populated with a rich tapestry of characters. Perhaps the album’s centerpiece, I will Remember You utilizes Hammond organ to conjure a chapter that might just be connected to his masterpiece tune Susan Across the Ocean.