On their 1980 debut album, "Minimum Wage Rock & Roll," the Bus Boys played up the fact that they were a predominantly black band playing predominantly white mainstream rock. They even dressed like bus boys in a fancy restaurant to underline their out-of-place status.
They waited two years to release a second album, and "American Worker" makes only one reference to race (the very funny "Soul Surfing, U.S.A.") and none at all to restaurants. Instead, chief songwriter Brian O'Neal has chosen to chase the broader themes of true love and the American dream down the wide highway of traditional rock'n'roll. With the help of new-wave producer Pete Solley, the Bus Boys take the open-minded listener for a fast, fun spin down that road.
In fact, "American Worker" is reminiscent of John Cougar's recent "American Fool." Both are full of punchy rhythms, catchy melodies and simple tales about average young Americans. Neither record is especially original or overwhelming. Like Cougar, the Bus Boys draw heavily on Bruce Springsteen's sound and themes, particularly on the new album's surging, E Street- flavored "Last Forever." "American Workers," the title track, is a simplistic but rousing anthem for blue-collar rock'n'rollers. "Opportunity," with its slight Caribbean flavor and its pointed questions about American injustice, is O'Neal's most successful political song yet.
The Bus Boys aren't great, unique talents like Sly Stone or Jimi Hendrix; they're more modest talents like Cougar or the Motels. As such, they present a truer test of rock's prejudices than Hendrix' continuing popularity has. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM THE BUS BOYS -- American Worker (Arista AL 9569). THE SHOW THE BUS BOYS and Linda Ronstadt at the Capital Center, Thursday at 8.