By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Apr 03, 2001 at 2:48 AM

A traditional rockabilly band donning upright bass, rhythm guitar, electric guitar and minimal drums, The Rustbelt Boys are kicking the punk of the '50s into the 21st Century with a vigor that is refreshing, yet familiar.

Fusing various forms of musical styles such as country western, swing, blues, Big Band, jazz and gospel, rockabilly borrows from everywhere and mixes it up into a unique blend of rhythm and raw energy.

Playing in a vein similar to stalwarts like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochrane and The Stray Cats, The Rustbelt Boys can be seen stuffing their big talents into small Milwaukee corner bars such as The Tasting Room, Frank's Power Plant and McCue's Trac Inn.

Their self-produced and released album, "Rockin' & Boppin' with The Rustbelt Boys," is a testament to their abilities. Recorded live in a basement, the disc is energetic, with 15 songs about cars, love and rocking times that are apt to send foots a-tappin' and hips a-swingin'.

Complete with the antics that have long made rockabilly shows a favorite form of entertainment, a performance by this band is not to be missed.

Todd Kempowski, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, understands the importance of putting on a good show. He whoops, hollers and hiccups through lyrics bellowed into a retro microphone.

Bassist J.P. Cyr keeps a beat, slapping and cklicking the strings and intermittently laying his form over the mammoth musical figure. "Take-off" guitarist Brian Kirchner masters his high-toned twangs and drummer Tim Waldoch contributes the extra oomph needed to transform the performance into a party. The entire band's wardrobe is straight out of a vintage clothing store and they don slick pompadours to match.

Usually performing a mix of covers and original material, it's almost impossible to tell a classic apart from a Rustbelt Boys song, unless you're a big fan of the classics of the genre.

The Rustbelt Boys are part of a movement of Milwaukee rockabilly bands that also includes Tim Cook and the Riverwesterners, Johnny Z and the Uptown Savages, Jimmy and the Saints, The Western Box Turtles and Hank Thomas, all acts suited for audiences willing to succumb to these bands' contagious charms.

Fans can look forward to The Rustbelt Boys's next album which will be released in vinyl format so their songs' can retain their nostalgic. They can also be seen live on Fri., April 6 at St. Francis' McCue's Trac Inn (2227 E. St. Francis Ave.), Sun., May 6 at Frank's Power Plant (2800 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) and Sun., May 27 with Johnny Z and the Uptown Savages at the Y Not II (706 E. Lyon St.). Keep up with area and regional rockabilly gigs by visiting