If you have delusions of rock-and-roll grandeur, the name Dexter is a nearly insurmountable obstacle. There's nothing even remotely cool or dangerous sounding about it -- like, say, Elvis or Johnny Rotten. Indeed, as would-be bad-boy handles go, Dexter makes even a mellifluous moniker such as Elton sound vaguely threatening. Dexter, after all, sounds like the name of the kid who wore a beanie and ate paste in your elementary school.
Then again, what's in a name? Dexter Romweber has been a rock-and-roll barnstormer since the mid-1980s. That was when he and his trusty sidekick -- a drummer named Crow -- made their cassette-only debut on a pre-indie imprint. The pair, who hailed from Carrboro, N.C., called themselves the Flat Duo Jets, and they specialized in playing maniacal, blues-infused screeds until Romweber's fingers bled or his voice gave out, whichever came first.
Some things never change. Crow has flown the coop, it's true, but on Romweber's latest CD, "Blues That Defy My Soul," the erstwhile Jets pilot makes like it's yesterday once more. New tunes such as "Rockin' Dead Man," the disc's blues-damaged opener, and "Nabonga," a sinewy surf-rock ditty, sound as if they've been retrieved prematurely from a time capsule lovingly assembled by an indie-rock veteran who knows every song in the "Nuggets" compilation series by heart. (Yep, as you'd expect, White Stripes auteur Jack White is a hard-core admirer.)
Romweber is a little bit country, too, and elsewhere he plunders the Charlie Rich archives for his disc's grand ole centerpiece, "I've Lost My Heart to You." Yet despite the tune's country connections, Romweber's version of the achy-breaky showstopper sounds a lot like "Unchained Melody" as rendered by a wedding singer who's gotten liquored up and sentimental before the bride has even arrived on the scene.
But if Romweber is in full lounge-lizard mode on that one, elsewhere he makes like the spastic blues rat he's always been. Johnny Thompson's "The 309" is presented here as a two-minute speed drill, a bashing 12-bar rocker that opens with the gleeful announcement that this particular rendition is "Take One." The swaggering "Turn Around Honey" channels Memphis Goth-billy greats the Cramps for a heady mixture of swampy blues-rock and pill-addled cacophony. "Monster Blues" is a keeper, too, a frantic workout that lives up to its title with a guitar solo so off-kilter, it's scary.
Judging from the album art, Romweber has gotten a bit, shall we say, paunchier over the years. But tough guy that he is, our man Dex is gutsy enough to include a handful of gee-wasn't-I-the-looker college photos in the CD booklet's inner pages. That's entirely appropriate. Bristling with the same kind of manic energy that propelled the Flat Duo Jets, "Blues That Defy My Soul" proves that a guy named Dexter can rock hard even after he turns soft in the middle.