The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
CD Reviews  |  Classical  |  Live Reviews  |  Music Features

The Detroit Cobras give new life to old soul

Blessed versions
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  June 1, 2009

NO FILLER: "In some ways, we're our own mixtape," says Rachel Nagy (left, with fellow Cobra Mary Ramirez).

There's nothing lazier than the typical cover band: musicians taking the easy way out for listeners who don't want to be challenged — or, worse yet, revisiting the glory years when their shitty taste in music was current and therefore socially acceptable. (No offense to tribute bands, as their requisite pageantry is the opposite of laziness.)

However, the last two cover bands I've seen were mind-blowing, albeit for totally different reasons. The first was the Detroit Cobras, a little over a year back when they opened for X. Emerging as sauntering, sneering bad-asses with Rachel Nagy's smoky crooning at the forefront, they served up raunchy garage-rock renderings of early R&B, soul, and blues of varying obscurity. I'd never heard any of it before, and I didn't realize they were playing new versions of old songs until last week.

(The second occasion was when I went to hear my high-school buddy's cover band during a visit to my home town. I had no idea that half my graduating class would also be at the bar, super-excited to hear performances of '90s-rock-radio faves like Green Day's "Welcome to Paradise" and Sublime's "Date Rape." Yeek.)

Nagy, over the phone on the way to Tucson, for the Cobras' next tour stop (they'll be at T.T.'s next Thursday), makes Detroit sound a lot cooler than where I grew up.

"In Detroit, there's not a lot to do, so everybody plays music for the hell of it," she says. "It's not like a lot of places where it's, 'Oh, we're going to get a band together, hit the road, touch the world, and become rock stars.' You drink beer and play music. You play a house party, people really like it, and next thing we knew, a club from New York called us saying, 'Hey, you want to come play?' We're like, 'All right.' It just kind of went from there."

This was sometime around 1994, so it's come quite a ways and seen many roster facelifts since, with Nagy and guitarist Mary Ramirez being the lone regulars. (The latest of their handful of CDs is the 2007 Bloodshot disc Tied & True.)

Nagy, who only recently left Detroit for Philadelphia (romantic and financial imperatives), doesn't see the Cobras as a cover band. It's clear they don't fit the paradigm of performing verbatim versions of instant crowd pleasers. The Ronettes, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Irma Thomas, and Ike and Tina Turner are recognizable enough, but to be well acquainted with Brice Coefield, Gary U.S. Bonds, and Hoagy Lands — apparently it helps if you're a Detroit local.

"In Detroit, this stuff is everywhere," Nagy explains. "It's not like New York, where there are a million cool kids looking for all the coolest stuff. There's always older stuff in the record stores, always stuff at garage sales and bake sales, some old guy dying, leaving all his stuff."

Turns out, the mixtapes cool kids are putting together are bullshit compared to the mixtapes dead cool kids could've made.

"Some people want to go to their corner bar and sing along to stuff they're hearing on the radio. It's like a mixtape. Especially nowadays, because you can't listen to a record anymore. You're lucky if there are two good songs. In some ways, we're our own mixtape. When we ended up making records, that was our goal, to make a really great record that you could listen to start to finish. 'Cause to us, there's no filler."

Despite the long-elapsed epoch of the source material, there's no lazy nostalgia, either. And don't even think about Sublime covers.

THE DETROIT COBRAS + DEXTER ROMWEBER DUO | T.T. the Bear's Place, 10 Brookline St, Cambridge | June 11 at 10:30 pm | $15 | 617.492.BEAR or

Related: Something for everyone, Dance, Monkey: Rob Cantrell, Two for the road, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Music, Pop and Rock Music,  More more >
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Best Music Poll 2009 winners
Today's Event Picks
--> -->
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MORGAN KNOCKERS | LOSS OF REALITY  |  August 25, 2009
    I thought Waltham mega-punks Morgan Knockers had neglected to send me Loss of Reality when it came out last month.
  •   CRANK IT UP  |  August 18, 2009
    Turning 21 was supposed to be the best thing ever, but the upgrade brought with it significant disappointment. Just as I achieved the required maturity for admission to grown-up clubs, the Marvels went and broke up.
  •   GLOOM MERCHANTS  |  August 05, 2009
    It would’ve been nice if Bobby Hecksher, songsmith and ringleader of the Warlocks, had spoon-fed me some anecdotes from back when he used to trip out with Timothy Leary.
  •   THE NEW ALIBIS | HARD PROMISES  |  July 01, 2009
    Stick around any scene long enough and after a while everyone's been in a band with everyone else.
  •   WANDERING STARS  |  June 24, 2009
    The line between art and entertainment gets thicker and darker every time someone opens a Facebook account. Most of us music types are entertainers, because entertainers just want attention.

 See all articles by: BARRY THOMPSON

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group