Dexter Romweber’s career has seen something of a resurgence of late, thanks in no small part to the reverence of superfan Jack White (who counts Romweber as a huge musical influence and has released a 7” and a live LP on his [White’s] Third Man imprint in the past couple years). But like many an underground rock icon, Romweber—who first started developing his cult fan base in the early 1980s with Chapel Hill rockablues twosome Flat Duo Jets—maintains a steely gaze (see any of his press photos) and inborn cool (see him live) to this day, despite the celebrity adoration. Check out any White Stripes record jacket for an updated take of this aesthetic positioned directly under a mop of messy, coal-black hair.
For his second album under the Dex Romweber Duo moniker—which features his sister, Sara, on drums—he exhibits something of a stylistic attention deficit disorder. Like any decent musicologist with a longtime appreciation and an ongoing sense of adventure and education, Romweber refuses to be pigeonholed into any one particular style; he dabbles here in surf (“Gurdjieff Girl”), suave lounge-act imitation (“The Death of Me”) and spooky blues the likes of which White has made a career on (“Nowhere”), to name only a few. It’s an impressive mix, one that might inspire admiration on the part of the listener—especially those who are less than instrumentally inclined. But as a rewarding listening experience, the album comes off as more than a little erratic.
It’s songs like “Jungle Drums” and “Wish You Would” where the Romwebers are at their best—shit-kicking, amped up and over it in two minutes. Album highlight and instrumental freak-out “Climb Down” even sports frantic rock ’n’ roll saxophone that would’ve fit in nicely on the new Black Lips album. Unfortunately, these lively moments are watered down by a majority of low-key material, verging from enjoyable to listless, which in turn makes Is That You in the Blue? a mixed bag overall. It’s not that Romweber can’t pull off a good slow jam; it’s just that once you’ve heard him rock, anything else pales in comparison. Considering the second half of this record features a slightly-less-passionate reprise of one of the first half’s best examples of Romweber As Rocker (“Wish You Would”), it’s a distinct possibility that he thinks that’s his best look as well. Now, if he’d just let this impulse carry an album, the result would make blues rockers half his age hang up their guitars.