(4 / 5)
This Baltimore outfit make a wonderful noise. They say it is “alt. country”, but that’s not the full story by any means. The alt. bit may well be accurate; as in they are an alternative to a lot of the mediocre drivel that purports to be Americana these days.
The band cite the likes of Tom Waits, the Velvet Underground, the Church and Bob Dylan as influences, and they say they enjoy being “underdogs” and staying “under the radar”.
There’s definitely country flavours, but it is rootsy, gutsy, lots of attitude, guitars are King, but not overpowering, and the song writing really is top notch. Yeah, main man Andrew Grimm’s songwriting is quite something.
There’s a grungy rock vibe at its core, which sets this album and this band apart. I’ll pick out the brilliant fourth track, “Cinnamon” to sum up what this record is getting at; think Nirvana meets Steve Earle and Todd Snider with Tom Petty over-seeing proceedings. Hank Williams’ ghost moving the furniture. They have this under-stated swagger, if that is not a contradiction in terms.
Formed in 1998 by Andrew Grimm, the sole original from the regular line-up changes throughout the band’s 19-year history, this is their 11th album. Here they revisit and revamp a few older tunes, five from the band’s previous albums, two from the front man’s solo record, along with five new Andrew Grimm originals. The opener “Telegraph”, is the title cut from their acclaimed 2011 release. A strong number to kick off with.
All dozen songs penned by Andrew Grimm, who sings lead, plays guitars, banjo, harmonica. Andy Bopp (great name) plays guitars, bass and sings backing vocals. Kurt Celtnieks hits the drums while singing backing vox. Ellen Cherry adds lovey harmony vocals.
The guitars sound gorgeous, cutting through like a bitch. Mad studio skills…. In fact, every instrument and the voices sit exactly where they should in the mix, and everything sounds almost like it would on a stage, live. It all has real energy and excitement, nothing sterile or sanitised by a studio environment.
Producers take a bow; Andrew Grimm, Andy Bopp and J Robbins. Mixed and engineered by J Robbins aka James Robbins, who also played organ on the record. Mastered by Dan Coutant. They all played their part to make this album one of the best sounding pieces of work to hit my desk this year. Bravo.
Nothing here sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s all damn good. Slotting between Americana, roots and rock. A good example of forgetting labels and letting the music speak for itself. And it really does. Loudly.
Steve Earle’s grizzled vocal drawl and laid-back attitude springs to mind across a lot of this album – which is a very good thing. Andrew Grimm sounds too cool for school as a singer, and this material fits him like a glove. But I say again; he is an exceptional songwriter. I am amazed that this man and this band are not filling stadiums and selling lorry loads of albums after 11 records. I really am. A real find….
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’