Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers' newest disc, True Companion, winds down with a feel-good cover of the Standells' barroom classic "Dirty Water." Grushecky himself has been kicking around the area long enough to remember when the Cuyahoga was so dirty, it was flammable. Granted, he's talking about the Three Rivers of his hometown -- with Donnie Iris, he's one of two guys who are roughly the Pittsburgh equivalent of Michael Stanley.
When you've been doing this for 30 years and you're not a household name, you'll have good days and bad days. And some of the better tracks from the Houserockers' latest sound as if they caught Grushecky on bad days. The disc is plenty upbeat, but shot through with a desolate version of the blues. And he doesn't mind; the game's been good to him, as the life-affirming "A Long Way to Go" recalls: The singer-guitarist slugged his way through Steel City strip joints, bars, and frat parties before Steve Popovich from Cleveland International Records signed the then-Iron City Houserockers. That paved the way for 1979's Love's So Tough, which drew positive notices in Rolling Stone. The Houserockers never quite broke out, but they have a loyal national following, and they're popular in the right circles. Bruce Springsteen, the king of blue-collar rock, produced 1995's American Babylon, leaving a permanent tinge of Jersey in the boy from the 'Burgh.