Since 1964 or thereabouts, it's been all too easy to assume that guitars, bass, drums and vocals amount to rock music. The subtler elements of what defines a band — the enunciation, the innuendo, the mojo — are often overlooked.
The members of Kansas City's Expassionates choose their words carefully when describing their music. Not once do they use the term rock, and they're just as unlikely to fall into the old "recommended if you like" trap. Audiences can formulate their own ideas about such things.
"We've had people at shows say it's sexy music," says guitarist Marco Pascolini. "There's a slow build to it — a tension, a rise and fall. It's not forceful. It kind of sweet-talks you."
Such phraseology is probably more revealing than drummer Sam Platt's token description: "Road music for space cowboys." But both speak to something romantic — something passionate.
"It's road-trip music," says singer and songwriter Scott Easterday. "People have said they don't listen to the record unless they can sit and listen to the whole thing."
Stylistically speaking, Expassionates is all over the map. There are hints of country, soul, rock and blues, but only insomuch as they are paragraphs in a larger narrative. It's the unmistakably American rock practiced by greats such as Roy Orbison, Alejandro Escovedo, Ryan Adams, Chris Isaak and Willie Nelson.
Like the work of those masters, Easterday's songwriting ages gracefully. At 37, he's hardly an elder statesman, but his songs express a more examined version of life.
"As I've gotten older, I want to say something more mature and directed," he says. "I revise and edit and don't stop revising until I'm really sure that I'm pleased with it."
The downside to working so deliberately is the slow pace — the first and only Expassionates record came out in 1998. Pascolini and Easterday have collaborated on and off since then, but the group gained a jolt of momentum a year ago with the addition of Platt and bassist Rich Burgess.
"It gets harder to write for a good band," says Easterday, who has also fronted the Roosevelts and Easterday (the band). "I don't want to give them something superficial."
The group recently recorded five demo tracks at its home practice space, but thanks to the engineering skills of Platt (the former owner of Red House Studios in Eudora) the songs may end up on a proper album sometime next year. Until then, make a point of being sweet-talked by Expassionates — it's time well spent.