By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Aug 14, 2007 at 5:25 AM

It's been about five years and as many lineup changes since The Saltshakers shared its bright-eyed debut, "Poptastic," with Milwaukee. Though the disc was a fun, punky ride, frontman Chad Curtis -- then a 21-year-old novice -- tells us he was still learning his way around a guitar, much less complex song structures.

"When the band started we barely knew how to play our instruments," he says. "I had never even picked up a guitar until I was 21, and everyone else was very new to playing music, too."

The "A Beautiful Mess" EP surfaced in 2004, and although its strong single, "Amplified," was and still is a great song, it's not until you hear "Believe," the opener on the band's latest, "Up All Night," that you can truly appreciate  just how far this band has come.

Curtis -- The Saltshakers' lifer -- particularly shines in his maturing skin, resulting in finely tuned pop ditties that know their way around a hook but are just rough enough around the edges to conjure the whiskey-soaked confessions of bands like Lucero.

"I just don't think I have the angst I may have had when I was younger," says Curtis. "I've always been a fan of pop music, I just became more focused on trying to write catchy two-and-a-half-minute pop songs over the past few years. I think there's a big difference in 'where you're at' in life when you're 21 and when you're 26. I think most people my age would agree with that."

Where Curtis and his band -- Jon Strelecki, Tim Peck and Corey Rawson -- have found themselves is a place where they are sure of the music they're writing, and are making no apologies for producing straight-forward, no frills, rock 'n' roll -- or as Curtis once described, "Pop music with guts.

"I think it's gutsy just to embrace the fact that you're a pop band. It's not exactly the trendiest sound to have when you're a band from the East Side of Milwaukee."

And while various obnoxious trends scrimmage to be the next new sound, the boys of The Saltshakers carefully channel power pop's greatest and mix it with modern references, such as "Whiskeytown," an obvious homage to Ryan Adams' former band. (There's also something about the beautifully harmonic "Find Touch Love" that seriously smells of early Get Up Kids.) But comparisons aside, "Up All Night" stands on its own and just doesn't quit -- it's breakups and booze turned up to 11 the entire time.

The Saltshakers host a CD release party for "Up All Night" on Saturday, Sept. 8 at The Mad Planet where each and every guest receives a free copy of the album.

"I like the idea of a bunch of people having our new CD right off the bat ... that's the most important thing to me."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”