(4 / 5)
It’s a lovey warm feeling when someone reaches out across the pond and via the wonders of the internet, introduces me to a new band and to music I have not yet come across. When it turns out that the music and the band are a wee bit special, that’s a bonus.
Case in point; Baltimore, US band, The Herd Of Main Street and their cracking album “Heyday”. If bluesy, rockin, rootsy, Americana and country with a folk-edge is your thing, this is very much for you. One of the best country/Americana albums of 2017.
A dozen decent cuts, it’s raw and its unpolished – unspoiled by studio skulduggery or anal production values. I’d suspect this band sound just about the same live as they do here on this album, and perhaps this was cut “as live” in the studio and overdubs were kept to a minimum. As honest as it gets.
I am limited as to what I can tell you about the band, as the email I got with the music advised me to go to their website for information, and there’s not much on there. We usually get given what we call a “one sheet” with a record release; which gives the background to the band or artist as a bio, including writing credits. Not this time.
I can tell you, this is their fourth album, the first dropped in 2009, then 2011 and 2013, plus an EP in 2014. The band is fronted by singer Peter McKibben, who also plays guitar, harmonica, and piano. He is joined by his wife Gena McKibben on guitar, slide guitar, pedal steel, piano, mandolin and vocals, Corey Zook on guitar, Kevin Alban on bass and Lance Smith on drums.
Peter has a vocal delivery and timbre not unlike Neil Young and maybe even early Jagger. There’s nods to many, but the band never lose their own identity. I hear plenty of Steve Earle (especially in his ‘& The Dukes’ days), Todd Snider and The Van Zandts. Then we go over to Willie Nelson and George Jones territory, and some Robert Zimmerman for good measure.
They have been labeled “ “Baltimore’s modern-day version of The Band”, which I reserve judgement on. There are tinges of Southern rock perhaps, so other writers have mentioned The Allman Brothers in the same sentence as this lot. Their music has shades of “Outlaw” about it; so Waylon, Merle and all of those cool cats might well be channelled along the way.
Strong material. I’m at a loss to tell you who penned the 12 songs; but a clue may be singer Peter McKibben being called a “prolific songwriter”. But they do not tell me if any of the band contribute.
They have a commercial appeal, but it’s not a “sell out”, and they remain true to what I assume are their roots. It’s retro country, while still being relevant to today. As good as anything coming out of Nashville at this time, and I am surprised they are not really well known over here. Classy stuff. The organisers of the annual Country2Country festival at London’s O2 Arena should check this outfit out.
The lead vocal holds the attention from track one to track 12, the songs are well structured and there’s some decent hooks. The musicanship is top end, and there’s palpable chemistry between the guys and the gal. It’s an even listen as regards the strength of the material too.
Gena McKibben’s pedal steel really is sublime and she’s one hell of a player; and I am aware that those things are not easy to master. She beautifully wraps the steel parts around the lead vocal and leaves lots of space; Buddy Emmons would be proud and she gives modern day Nashville ‘A Team’ steel legend Paul Franklin some competition. Her harmony vocal with her old man on “Redbird (for annE)”, and her stunning pedal steel skills really make that track special. But the OTT reverb and how high it sits in the mix for the harmonica part, sadly kills the mood.
The record opens with “Dream Of Fire”, which takes us to Nashville back in the day when records were made based on the quality of the song and not what the suits think is the next big thing. Third cut in, “Feels Like Work” is a standout track; telling someone it is too much like hard work to love them. Know that feeling only too well! “Train Station Blues” is what the title implies it is: 100mph blues with “choo choo, woo woo” harmonica and a distorted blues-shouter vocal. The effect on the vocal got a tad irritating.
“Yellow Flame” is familiar country territory, with lovely harmony vocals and pedal steel from Gena. “Never Look Back”, has a 60s/70s Byrds, CSN&Y vibe to it. The Jingly jangly guitars sound great. “Pocket Knife”, another excellent song, with a spot on vocal. “Redbird (for annE)” is really cool and as mentioned, features fabulous pedal steel and vocal harmony. We go “Outlaw” style for the penultimate cut, “Last Cigarette”, before the sparkling diamond among the jewels:” The One Who Cares”, which closes proceedings on a high.
Yes; they left the killer, knock out blow until the very last round. “The One Who Cares.” A stunning ballad and a fine example of superior songwriting. If this gets pitched by a publisher in Nashville, I could see this one getting snapped up by a major artist to cover; thus buying the writer – I presume that’s Peter – a new house! I suspect Peter has a heck of a record collection and it spans from way back when, and the likes of Buck Owens and Hank Williams, right up to the guys like Eric Church and Ryan Adams of today.
They sound like a band that must be heard live, and preferably on a Saturday night in a honky tonk on Broadway in Music City, or in some barn up a mountain in hillbilly country. Plenty of beer: obligatory! But they also make records with meaningful songs and lyrics worth hearing, as well as fabulous shit kicking stuff. Plenty of radio fodder here for spins on country and Americana shows.
This is REAL country music before the Music City music machine demanded songs only about trucks, tractors and drinking beer/whisky. That actually makes an irony of the band’s name; because on this listen, they most definitely do NOT intend to follow the herd. But we really, really should.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’