Wednesday, March 20, 2013

. . . but also a citizen of the Hillbilly World

Kentucky's StarDevils, an outstanding hillbilly/rockabilly combo

In my previous post I sang the praises of being a musical locavore, i.e., someone who buys music by and sees lives shows by bands from the local community.  I’m fortunate that here in Colorado there’s a plethora of outstanding country and rockabilly bands that suite my tastes nicely.

But of course it’s the 21st century, and thanks to the internet the world is our community and in this global village it’s possible to discover great bands based literally thousands of miles from where you live, and even though you obviously can’t see them live you can at least download their music and enjoy it.  And so while I’m still committed to supporting (financially and otherwise) my local scene as much as possible, lately I’ve also been searching for similar bands far and wide using the spectacular site Reverbnation.  Just a quick plug here but if you haven’t checked out Reverbnation, you should (especially if you’re reading this post).  It’s an incredible compendium of information on bands of every genre and from every corner of the globe. What I like about it is it’s kind of a cross between All Music Guide (which I’ve used and enjoyed for years) and band MySpace or Facebook pages—it provides background info on the band, history, membership, genres and descriptions of their sounds, and song files to listen to as well as concert and tour into, reviews, and other pertinent information. 

But what’s best about it is that it’s one of the most  searchable sites out there, and in particular it is searchable by genre.  So a couple weeks ago I typed in “hillbilly” to see what I could find since I figured typing in “rockabilly” or “country” would produce far too many hits.  Even with “hillbilly” I got over 260 hits, everything from “hillbilly country” (expected) to “hillbilly rock” (yeah, I can see that) to “hillbilly grunge”, “hillbilly metal”, and “hillbilly gangsta rap” (huh?).  But combing through these I managed to find about a dozen acts that seem to fit my interests, which I discuss below.  What’s incredible is where these acts hail from—not only do they come from slightly less traditionally country locales in America like Albuquerque  New Mexico and San Francisco California, but American honky tonky country and hillbilly boogie has become a truly global phenomenon, with acts from Europe and Australia. As skeptical as I was that artists from these non-traditional locales could play real hillbilly/honky tonk country, I’ve been amazed at what I’ve found.

Hailing from Kentucky, StarDevils play a first-run countrified rockabilly that pulls from, according to their Reverbnation page, “ELVIS PRESLEY, Carl Perkins, Wayne Hancock, Hank Williams, Charlie Feathers”.  Okay, they’ve got the right inspirations—add Johnny Horton to that list and that would just about cover around 90% of what I currently listen to.    Formed in 2000, they have received favorable reviews from a variety of rockabilly web sites such as Black Cat Rockabilly for their authentic mid-50’s sound; aside from the drums on their recorded work I would definitely agree (and even The King added drums to his records pretty quickly after his first few singles on Sun).  They actually have two CDs on iTunes, 2003’s Diagnosis Delicious and 2005’s The Devil’s Music. I like both albums a lot, not surprisingly.  Off Delicious I have downloaded “$6 Trim” for its jaunty rhythm and twangy vocals and the humorous story it tells about a bopper who goes to get a haircut and gets his pompadour shorn off.  “I Guess You Figured It Out” is a romance-gone-bad tale with a solid boogie backbeat; “On the Corner” is slower and twangier, almost ominous, more of a finger-snapper than a jitter-bugger but is also good.  “Mr. Lonesome” is really more pure honky tonk country and reminds me a lot of my current local fave, Ethyl and the Regulars.  This is one of my favorite songs of theirs.  “She’s My Chick” is up-tempo boogie with a slight rockabilly edge; I really like how these guys walk that fine, thin line between country and rockabilly so well.  “You Can’t Do That” has that railroad clickity-clack rhythm of classic 50’s countrybilly like Johnny Horton. Off their Devil’s Music album, I like “Buckboard Boogie”, another song that veers between hillbilly boogie and early rockabilly; the more straightforward Gene Vincent inflected rockabilly of “Off My Rocker”; and the country blues of “Leaving Chicago”.  This band is VERY high on my own personal favorite list right now.

Another band I’m really excited about are the Hayride Trio out of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. There’s nothing available as yet on iTunes but they’ve got several videos of performances uploaded to YouTube that I’ve found particularly enjoyable.  Their cover of Woody Guthrie’s “California Blues” is a jaunty honky tonk blues workout with some swing and a boatload of guitar talent.  “Hayride Boogie” is a peppy hillbilly boogie; it’s jangly catchiness reminds me of another current local favorite of mine, “Fast Track” by Denver’s Mad Dog and the Smokin’ J’s.   “Jitterbug” also has a rockabilly feel to it and conveys the energy and enthusiasm these guys have for letting out the stops in concert.  “Rock It” has that Hank Williams shuffle but more electricity/amplification and is another standout track.  I want to hear more by these guys and especially if they can translate their passionate live performances into similarly effective studio work.

They’re geographically about as far from Memphis as its possible to get, but Melbourne, Australia’s Rechords are another phenomenal old-school country-rockabilly outfit bringing the sounds of down-home Americana to the shores of Oz.  They have one album on iTunes, 2010’s On the Wagon.   “Easily Loved” has the smooth sweet hillbilly jazz guitar sound that pulls from the western swing work of guys like Jimmy Wyble and Bob Dunn, set into a crisp rockabilly format with smoothly crooned Elvis-like vocals.  “Don’t Be Mad” reminds me of some of Brian Setzer’s solo work (particularly the vocals) but with that cruder Eddie Cochran feel to the guitar than “Easily Loved”.  “It Won’t Be Long” has a Merle Travis feel to the guitar and even a little fiddle to add more country flavor, along with some soaring harmonies.  “Boogie Blues” again has more of a western swing vibe and a yodeling vocal that evokes the best of Wayne the Train Hancock—good stuff.  “Fireball Mail” chugs along like “Mystery Train” and the jangly guitar work here is superb.  “Long As I’m Around” is gutbucket rockabilly, low and twangy with yipping vocals and a snappy beat.  Another highly recommended outfit, nothing really seems bad on this whole album.

They hail from Ferndale, Michigan, but the Hi-Q’s are a standard mid 50’s rockabilly unit.  While it has less of the country/hillbilly feel of the above bands, this is top-notch rockabilly.  I like “Hi-Q Boogie” and its gutbucket rhythm and fleet guitar picking on the solos and “Bop Crazy Bop” off their 2005 album Hop & Bop.  Good stuff and I think I’ll come back after I’ve had to explore this album some more.

San Francisco’s B-Stars have a sound that veers away from rockabilly and back toward traditional 50’s country, stuff like Ernest Tubb but with a western swing to it a la Bob Wills.  2010’s Behind the Barn with the B-Stars has a number of excellent tracks, including the swinging, jazzy “Ink Free Baby of Mine”.  “Back Up Buddy” is a straightforward Hank Williams honky tonk outing that captures that funky swing of Hank’s music.  “Walk Home Alone” reminds me of Ernest Tubb but with more twangy Hank style vocals.  These guys also walk the walk, dressing in flamboyant matching western outfits.  I like their style, both visual and musical; I’d probably have liked it more 6 months ago when all I was listening to was Wayne Hancock, Hank III, and Joey Allcorn.

Similarly, Davy Jay Sparrow from Portland, Oregon has that nasally Hank vocal down pat.  As mentioned above, I’ve kind of migrated away from this kind of hardcore Hank Williams sound, but I did download “I Need to Make Some Money” off 2010’s The Bottom of the Barrel and “Slow Slow Boogie” off 2012’s Olde Fashioned; I like the slow, grooving swing of this song, it’s really close to the excellent stuff Wayne Hancock has been putting out for about 18 years.

The seemed at first glance to be almost a little too “Hee Haw” for my tastes, given their corn-pone country hick visual image, but Root’n Toot’n, from the decidedly UN-rootin’-tootin’ city of Durham in England play an undeniably infectious blend of traditional country, hillbilly, and honky tonk.  “Turn My Picture Upside Down” off 2006’s Raw and Uncut has a swinging shuffle beat (courtesy of upright bassist Mandy Stroud, one of the regrettably few female musicians in this genre).  “Big River” off 2008’s Making Hay is country with a rockabilly twist, amped up (slightly) and with smoother vocals.  “Dawg Gone It” off the 2009 album of the same name is more rockabilly still, similar in feel to some of Carl Perkins’ early Sun singles; “Teenage Boogie” on this same album is more electrified hillbilly boogie.  “Onie’s Bop” off their most recent album, 2011’s Another Nail in My Liver, is similar and name checks country pioneer Ferlin Husky. 

There must be something in the water over in England, because there’s several bands putting out an authentic country/rockabilly sound plying their trade in our mother country.  Based in London, Charlie Thompson is another real-deal hillbilly/rockabilly artist who you would swear hailed from Shreveport instead.  He doesn’t have an album on iTunes but “It’s Drivin’ Me Crazy” is available on YouTube and has a sweet swing and Charlie’s voice is pure sweet country butter it’s so smooth.  Also on YouTube is “Sittin’ and Waitin’”; Charlie’s voice here really reminds me of Eddie Cochran’s, which is a real compliment.  It also puts me in mind of Moot Davis, a New Jersey country crooner whose music I also enjoy.  I hope Charlie gets some commercial product out there soon, I’d like to line his pockets with some of my money in exchange for some of his terrific tunes.

Another English band producing classic 50’s country is the Dead Bone Ramblers, who formed early in 2012 and also don’t have any commercial product out but who have several videos uploaded to YouTube of them playing live in pubs or community fairs.  “Bonfire” has that classic folk/traditional country feel but with just enough electric guitar to make it feel more modern.  Their cover of Charlie Feathers’ “Can’t Hardly Stand It” does great justice to this Sun Records pioneer; Feathers became a sensation in the 70’s and 80’s in English rockabilly circles for his frequent and well-received tours at that time.  “Heartbreakin’ Love” has a jaunty feel reminiscent of “Ring of Fire” by The Man in Black, and “True Affection” is a quick fun rockabilly gallop with clean sound on the guitar tone.

I don’t have much from them yet, but London’s Muleskinners produce a straight-up rockabilly sound. “Tomcat Boogie” is on YouTube and is a good swinging cut.   Their sound occasionally pulls a little more from swing music than country, as is evidenced by their cover of Wayne Hancock’s “That’s What Daddy Wants”, but is entertaining nevertheless.

Amazingly, another country troubadour who doesn’t have any product out but some impressive YouTube videos is American Lucky Tubb, grandson of country titan Ernest Tubb.  “Damn the Luck” (an obvious play on his name) showcases his honky tonk/outlaw approach to country; like Hank III Lucky appears to have turned his back (and rightly so) on the Nashville establishment and is making his own way.  His sound actually reminds me, aside from Hank II of course, of another famous country scion, Shooter Jennings.  “Rhythm Bomb” is more rocking, a turbo-charged honky tonk number that swings and bops. 

Hailing from the Netherlands, the Hi Faluters play gutbucket honky tonk and rockabilly in the Johnny Horton mold; their cover of Horton’s “Honky Tonk Mind” is very capable.  They have literally dozens of videos uploaded to YouTube and I’m slowly working through them but so far I like what I’ve heard, these guys are a very tight outfit and their sound is (surprisingly) authentic.

I’m sure I’ll find

Friday, March 15, 2013

Becoming a Musical Locavore . . .

There's some great music in my adopted state of Colorado

Anyone following my latest posts knows that lately I’ve been trying to expend more effort to learn more about the local music scene here in Colorado.  When I lived in Los Angeles I was very active in the local music scene starting in the mid-80’s, and went to many great shows (though not as many as I wanted to because of financial issues).  But in the mid-90’s I moved both literally and figuratively away from live music and rock music both, as I left to do postdoctoral research at the University of Michigan Medical School for two years and was burned out on rock anyway (the subject of a future post).  It was only starting early in the 21st century that I began to get back into both rock music and live music, but of course six years ago we had our son and since then it’s been harder for us to go out and see live bands for both practical reasons (finding a good and available babysitter, cost, etc.) and other reasons (I’m simply less into hanging out in loud smoky bars as I get older). 

But lately I’ve been really trying to get out and see local bands, and even when that’s not possible I’ve been trying to purchase music by them, and in general to treat music much the same way as I treat food:  buying local and “organic” (i.e., real music played by real musicians).  I must say I’ve been impressed by the quality of the music being made here in the Denver-Boulder area.   Specifically, right now I am really into the following songs by the following bands:

1.  "Cook County Jail” by Ethyl and the Regulars—anyone reading my recent posts knows that I am in LOVE with this band; they are the living, breathing, embodiment of 1950’s honky tonk/hillbilly boogie country, which is right now my FAVORITE music.  I love all their songs, but by far my favorite is this one, which just has that peppy swinging rhythm and catchy groove that I love about so much 1950’s country—the bass on this song is particularly terrific.  I’ve been lucky enough to see this band live now twice at the Oscar Blues bar in Lyons, Colorado, and both times they blew me away.  Their originals as well as their sublime choice of covers (which keep me scrambling for my iPhone to Google them so I can download them when I get home).  Of their originals, I also love “The Waitress Song”, “Canada Dry”, and “At the End of My Blues”.

In addition to terrific covers of songs by usual honky tonk suspects like Buck Owens (including a version of “Together Again” that I actually like MORE than the original, as blasphemous as that might sound), Hank Williams (“Mind Your Own Business”), and a satisfyingly large plethora of Johnny Horton (“I’m a One Woman Man”; “Cherokee Boogie”; “Got the Bull By the Horns”), they have cranked out superb versions of “On This Mountain Top” by Johnny Paycheck and “Apartment Number Nine” by George Jones.  Their version of “Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees, with a chunk of Hank Garland’s “Sugarfoot Rag” inserted into the middle, is a slice of heaven to me.  Heck, even my wife, whom I dragged to see them despite her avowed lack of interest in honky tonk country (though she is a big fan of roots- and country-influenced rock by bands like Lucero and Wilco) was impressed by them.  I love these guys and am probably their biggest fan.

2.  "The Longest Night” by the Gasoline Lollipops—I downloaded this song a while back but only gave it a quick and dirty listen then but since then I’ve gone back and given it a closer listen and realized the incredible power and emotion of this amazing, touching song.  It describes the experiences the singer had when a close friend who lived in another state attempted suicide, and his thoughts and feelings as he drove across the country to see her, not knowing if she was still alive or what would happen to her.  The soft but solid rhythm, quiet instrumentation, and heartfelt lyrics and impassioned vocals give this song incredible emotional impact that blows me away every time I listen to it (which is often).  It’s hard to listen to this song and not be deeply touched, the lyrics are so raw and real and honest.  I need to see this band live soon, they have a residency in a bar/club one town over from me and I’m going to try to get out there as soon as I can.  There's also a stark, moody Johnny Cash feel to this song too; I can picture the Man in Black singing this song easily.

3.  “Statutes of Limitation” and “Virtues, Spices and Liquors” by 4H Royalty.  My most recent post gushes about this incredible band, who sound for all the world like a cross between the Replacements and the Meat Puppets, a contemporary/alternative band that’s unabashedly proud of their rural/western roots and infuse their guitar-intense alternative sound with elements of country and bar band.  “Statutes” is a driving, rhythmically pumping song with sweet lead guitar flourishes and is simply wonderful.  “Virtues” as mentioned has a sweet, more introspective high lonesome quality to it, highlighted by some nifty slide guitar work.  These guys are probably my second most favorite band of the moment, just a really effective mix of the contemporary and the classic, the urban and the rural.  They capture to me the essence of Denver—a modern, even cosmopolitan city which is nevertheless proud of its western roots and rural heritage.  Not everyone who lives in a “flyover” state is a reactionary hick; these guys upend any number of negative stereotypes someone might have about the types of people who live here.  I love bands that can do that, as well as walk that line between genres as well as they do.

4.  "Good Morning Blues” by Ethyl and the Regulars--I especially love the line “The ghost of our love, still haunts these lonely rooms, and whispers your name in my ear.”  Another terrific slice of original honky tonk country from this amazing band.

  5.  "All I Got To Show” by Mad Dog and the Smokin’ J’s—I don’t have a studio version of this song, just a live version someone recorded (complete with annoying bar chatter in the background) and posted on YouTube, but this is another incredibly powerful performance and song.  As mentioned in my previous post, the song has that rootsy guitar swagger of the best Social Distortion, but it’s the vocals that really put this song over the top for me—the passionate, bluesy vocals remind me at one remove of John Mellencamp’s early work on albums like Scarecrow, which again I mean as a high compliment.  A very powerful and moving song, this seems like another great band to see live.

6.  “Chinese Turquoise” and “Orbison Eyes” by 4H Royalty—These two songs, off their first album Colossolalia, first got me excited by this amazing band, and in particular demonstrated their amazing guitar work and guitar tone.  The solo on “Chinese Turquoise” is one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a long, long time. 

7. “Drive Away” by the Railbenders—arguably Colorado’s finest purveyors of a more contemporary country sound (though far from the overpolished crap that has oozed out of Nashville for the past 40 years), the Railbenders have produced a number of outstanding songs on their four albums to date, but I like this song a lot for its sweet sentiment and melodic charm.  “Drop Me Off at the Honky Tonk” has a distinct Merle Haggard/Waylon Jennings feel and is another fave, as is “I-70 Westbound”, a proud shout-out to the obvious assets of the Rocky Mountain State and another song that sounds comfortably at home on any “outlaw country” playlist. 

8. “Fast Track” by Mad Dog and the Smokin’ J’s—this song, off their  album Fuel For the Fire  is a fun, catchy, bouncy light rockabilly ditty.  Its breezy, finger snapping rhythm and sweet melodic guitar reminds me of Buddy Holly’s more pop work, like “That’ll Be the Day”.  It also reminds me of two neo-rockabilly cuts I’ve enjoyed for some time, “Someday, Someway” by Marshall Crenshaw (which launched his career as the finest purveyor of Buddy Holly-influenced rockabilly revival; he even played Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba) and “Living for Your Lover” by Chris Isaak; both tunes have that same jaunty, catchy approach to rockabilly pop that Holly himself originated.  Great stuff.

9.  “Bud’s Bounce” by the Blue Mountain Ranch Hands—this band, which only gigs sporadically (I missed their last performance at Oskar Blue’s damn it), is a classic western swing combo in the vein of Bob Wills, but with additional female vocals that give it a more swing jazz type of patina.  This song is particularly good in showcasing their instrumental prowess.  This is “hillbilly jazz” of the finest sort, the kind of music that shatters the stereotype of inbred hicks picking on a banjo on the porch.  During its heyday western swing shared musical ideas and musicians with the best urban jazz, and guitarists like Bob Dunn and the late lamented Jimmy Wyble were widely recognized as sophisticated and highly trained and talented musicians.  It’s great to see someone trying to keep those ideals alive.

 10. “My Rocky Mountain Home” by Bonnie and the Clydes—this is another sweet ode to life in Colorado; Ms. Bonnie is a talented, sharp vocalist and they are another band I hope to see more of soon.

This is my version of a Local Top 10.  I've really enjoyed searching out these fantastic local bands.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Virtues, Spices and Liquors of Home: 4H Royalty

4H Royalty--One of Colorado's Finest Bands

I wrote about them in a previous post on neo country acts but lately I’ve gotten even more into 4H Royalty.  Hailing from a small town in the plains east of Denver called Byers, Colorado, and describing themselves as purveyors of “twang rock”, 4H Royalty have crafted an amazing and unique sound that pulls heavily on a wide array of influences, everything from traditional country to 80’s post-punk/indie/alternative, with a sprinkling of bar band rock.  Simply put, their sound is almost eerily crafted to appeal to ME, given my background and interests, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I love them so much.  Superficially they remind me of other bands that have sought to meld a punk/post-punk energy with the heartfelt lyricism and roots instrumentation of traditional country such as Wilco and Lucero, but upon repeated listen to their two albums (which are available for digital download on their band web site) what strikes me more is their resemblance to the classic mid-80’s post punk SST bands like Husker Du, the Minutemen, and most specifically the Meat Puppets.  Like Husker Du, they harness the energy of punk but veer away from the stridency, both lyrically and sonically, of it and instead produce music that’s passionate and tough but still melodic.  Like the Minutemen, there’s an element of “corndog” about their entire approach, a way of not taking themselves too seriously while still making music that IS serious and important. 

But as mentioned it’s the Meat Puppets whom 4HR most resemble, which to me is one of the biggest compliments one can pay to a band.  Like the Puppets, 4H Royalty have proudly embraced pre-punk musical idioms, infusing their music with a strong strain of roots, country, and blues in much the same way the MPs melded their early punk leanings with a wild, ZZ Top-meets-the-Grateful Dead mish-mash of bluegrass, psychedelia, and country fried southwestern boogie rock.  They also possess the Kirkwood’s lyrical bent, one that veers between the comical and the heartfelt, often within the same song.  Many of their lyrics seem to be nakedly autobiographical, detailing life growing up in the rural Colorado plains in a way that’s never mawkish but nevertheless retains a touching sentimentality and above all honesty.

Their first album, 2010’s Colossolalia, is an almost unbelievably self-assured and unified debut.  “Rosenberg Family Band”, the leadoff song, has a driving country rock guitar sound that occasionally dissolves into shimmering melodic interludes; the lyrics tell the tale of a fictional, dysfunctional Colorado family band that sounds like the Partridge Family updated for 21st century Colorado.    There’s definitely a driving, Lucero element (I get echoes of the Lucero song “Anjalee” in the chugging guitar chords toward the end) to the guitar on this song that is catchy but hard and extremely enjoyable. “Chinese Turquoise” is less rocking and more melodic but I love the complex interplay of guitars on this song, and the building, ascending chords leading to the chorus; this song also has one of the most soaring, transcendent guitar solos, I’ve heard in a long time—it starts with a set of country sounding notes dripping with vibrato before hitting a set of melodic elements that almost evokes the best of Iron Maiden. 

“Woo Girls” starts off more introspectively but eventually bursts into the similar set of power chords that provides this entire album with its sonic signature; the tone of the guitar on every song is just magnificent and is such a unifying element of this album.  The lyrics here seem to be autobiographical, talking about drinking and going home and hearing the “woo” girls walking by in a way that reminds me of “Here Comes a Regular” by the Replacements—not quite as sad and despondent as that song but still carrying that element of melancholy over a life spent wasted in bars.  The following song, “Rock and Roll Blowout”, tells the story of a young boy and his friends in some small rural town riding their bikes downtown to see a (fictional) local band Scotty and the Reacharounds that seems poised to make it to the big times, only to be told that the band had broken up.  This is a standout track to me, evoking the most touching nostalgic elements of worshipping older bands and the desolation that ensues when they break up.  Sonically the song is excellent too, starting with the swirling, country-esque guitar but eventually evolving into yet another crisp set of power chords accentuated by heavy cowbell by the drummer.  Lead singer Zach Boddicker’s vocals here seem impassioned and heartfelt; whether this song is actually true or not, his conviction sells the emotional impact very effectively.  Boddicker’s vocals generally remind me of the slightly straining, slightly off-key vocals of Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets, only with more of a western twang.

In contrast, the next song, “The Breaks”, is slow and bluesy and reminds me of “The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix crossed with some of the more introspective work of Stevie Ray Vaughn.  This ability to slow things up but maintain the emotionality is something else that reminds me of the Replacements too, who could roar through “Left of the Dial” and screech to a halt in a song like “Here Comes a Regular” without losing the listener.  “Rubber City Girl” slows down the tempo even more but again this doesn’t come at any cost, and this song, with its strange, fractured lyrics and country guitar flourishes is one I can envision slow dancing to in some beer-soaked bar.

“Tires in a Landfill” ramps the energy back up, a rocking rave-up with a strange but catchy chorus:  “Like tires in a landfill I will rise again” with another nifty guitar-and-cowbell section as well.  “Orbison Eyes”, with its slashing chords and galloping rhythm and soaring chorus, was the song that first attracted me to this group when I found it on YouTube, and it’s still one of my top favorites.  The guitar work here is super-top-notch, especially the big post-chorus flourishes and the soaring solo.  This song captures the very best elements of the Meat Puppets sound but in a way that’s incredibly unique and not derivative in the slightest.  “Scratch and Dent Man” and “What’s Too Dumb To Be Said” are two more mellow songs but again the guitar tone on both  is incredible and keeps these songs from ever being boring.  “Dumb” again has snatches of autobiographical detail about starting out playing in cover bands but still sticking with the songwriting to reach for something better.  “The Project” starts with some weird deep guitar chords but develops into a catchy country-fried rocker while “Walk of Shame” is fast and furious while still retaining most of those twangy, country elements of “Project”, and “You Didn’t Have To Do That” ends things off with some psychedelic, bluesy guitar work over lyrics that describe pride in their rural roots.

In May of 2012 4H Royalty released their second album, Where UFOs Go To Die, and if anything it’s even better than their debut.  “Accordion Bus”,  is another fractured tale that describes talking to strange homeless women on the bus, and is another fantastic track, catchy, funny, and retaining the magnificent guitar work and tone (and cowbell!) of the previous album.  But it’s the second track, “Statutes of Limitation”, that’s one of my favorites by this amazing band—the guitar intro is absolutely amazing, the way it meshes with the driving rhythm set down by drummer Rob Buehler and bassist Andrew Porter before soaring into majestic high, bluesy notes that settle back down into the strumming drive of the rhythm.  The lyrics seem to tell the tale of a woman who is trying to confess her infidelity to the singer, who is letting her off the hook by invoking the “statutes of limitation”—presumably that her indiscretion happened in the past and can and should remain in the past.  A magnificent song, both musically and lyrically.  “The Black Hornet Rides Again” is a wild, country instrumental, and it and the subsequent song “The Blind Draw” remind me of the desert-fried country psychedelia the Meat Puppets on albums like Up On the Sun.  “Fall Off the Face of the World With Me” is slow and thoughtful, another weird (autobiographical?) tale of sitting on top of the water tower watching the Harvest Days festival and parade talking about leaving the stifling confines of the small town with his girlfriend (who may or may not love him).  “Itchy Blood” is about a man who sends a letter to a woman for whom he once, and for whom he still, has feelings (the “itchy blood” of the title). 

“Virtues, Spices and Liquors” is another of my very favorite songs by 4H Royalty, a magnificent high lonesome song about the lures of home and old friends and nakedly autobiographical in tone.  This song comes the closest to contemporary country in its sound, and for once I don’t mean that as a rebuke:  I can easily see any current male Nashville covering this (and probably ruining it) because of its excellent balance of rocking drive and sweet country elements.  This is really a magnificent song, with one of the best choruses ever:
Mercy, sherry, sage and rosemary
Jasmine brandy and hope
Return me to sender when I start to remember
All the virtues, spices, and liquors of home

“Soon Enough” is one of the more bitter songs on the album, documenting the narrator’s encounter with a woman he once loved and how he now doesn’t want to see her again.  The guitar solo again evokes the best, bluesy elements of Jimi Hendrix (or even of the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  The title song is soft and quiet and the slight slide guitar elements give it an eerily Western vibe, like driving past Area 51 in the wide open New Mexico desert.

I would love to see this amazing local band in concert, but unfortunately they’re only playing sporadic gigs in the coming months and most of those are not that close to my hometown.  Still, they’ve become one of my very favorite bands and I love their sound.