Telarc [Release date 26.08.13]
Moreland & Arbuckle are a power trio with a difference. They hail from Wichita Kansas and their blend of riff driven, southern influenced roots rock is shot through with essential blues influences, but not in the manner you might expect.
‘7 Cities’ comprises 13 tracks with eclectic lyrics, full of southern rock, low down boogie, grungy guitar, garage rock, r&b and country blues all glued together by a band with a real road tested feel.
It’s refreshingly original album full of colourful stories, infused with rock intensity – all blazing harp, raucous slide and brief electric guitar wig outs – but tempered by subtle playing. And for a line-up comprising acoustic/electric, slide and cigar box guitars, harp & drums (with a couple of keyboards, bass and backing vocal embellishments), Moreland & Arbuckle make a glorious racket.
It’s music that proudly deviates from the norm and is like one of those southern drenched noir films full of dark narrative and dreamy music. It’s a passionately played album full of a layered sound with soulful singing, deep tones, catchy hooks and scorching riffs.
Originally an eclectic country blues duo, Moreland & Arbuckle brought in drummer Kendall Newby to fatten out the sound and provide variety and dynamics. As a result they have developed into a powerful southern rock influenced roots rock combo with grungy riffs and sizzling harp. They also have a refreshing sense of history on an album that is thematically rooted in the past, but is given contemporary relevance by songs concerning the quest for resources and power. It’s perhaps not so much a fully fledged concept album as a bunch of related songs with a theme that extends to the unlikely cover of the Tears For Fears song ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’.
The title ‘7 Cities’ refers to the 16th century Spanish conquistador Francesco Vazquez de Cornado and his fruitless search for the mythical ’7 Cities of Gold’, which took him to Quivira (now known as Kansas). Some of the inhabitants of the town were believed to be native tribes from Wichita which is where the band comes from.
‘Quivira’ is the title of the opening track and it sets a marker for the album in terms of its historic subject matter and expansive sound which draws on a Yardbirds style riff and chant. Dustin Arbuckle’s baritone vocals bring real gravitas to bear on a story of dashed hopes in which the only natural resource to be found is fruit: ‘Let me take you to a land, where the gold is growin’ on the trees’. His partner Aaron Moreland provides the slide-led wall of sound as Arbuckle’s harp adds an extra layer on a song that perfectly levers us into a special album.
Fellow Kansas song writer Ryan Taylor’s ‘Kowtow’ is a slow burner, voiced over a funky back beat with potent harmony vocals and an unlikely hook that becomes catchier with every play. The album flows like a meandering river, moving from the southern rock groove of ‘The Devil And Me’, with its chiming guitar lines, piercing solo and resolving hook, to the outstanding ‘Tall Boogie’.
The latter is 3 minutes of kick ass boogie and evocative lyrics that define the word swagger: ‘I’m creeping down this county highway, Livin’ just outside the law.’ Drummer Kendal Newby nails the boogie with an essential tic-toc rhythm, much in the same way he holds down the back beat with his delicate touch and subtle phrasing that provides the album with its elemental light and shade.
‘Broken Sunshine’ is the perfect antidote with a sonorous harp, chiming guitars and an Allman Brothers style vocal on a song with a curious tempo change, but irresistible guitar lines and cool bv’s.
M&A also look back over their shoulder to their previous existence as a down-home duo on the melodic country blues instrumental ‘Red Bricks’, which is all resonator and harp, while the brusque ‘Stranger Than Most’ provides a startling contrast with its grungy buzz guitar, harp and a baritone vocal.
The band’s calling card is the way they pull together different songs and contrasting arrangements into something instantly recognizable as Moreland & Arbuckle. The songs may be their primary focus, but they sure as hell explore every riff and harmonic possibility to give the album its organic quality. To that end, they add an organ line and extra vocal harmonies to emphasize the catchy hook of another Ryan Taylor song ‘Bite Your Tongue’, while Moreland soars on a brief but exemplary solo.
And just when you think you have their measure, they slip into an unexpected cover of ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’’, with another great vocal from Dustin. The reflective ‘Time Ain’t Long’ also delivers another great line: ‘Drinking from a cup that runneth over, No reason not to have another round’, while on the raucous harp-led and stop time ‘Modern Boy’ they revert to their imposing wall of sound with glorious bv’s as Dustin concludes: ‘Lord, I’m just a modern boy in this post-modern world’.
‘7 Cities’ is a rootsy album full of real substance and spark that creeps into your subconscious and stays there. The memorable songs and the integral mix of words and music draws you back to again to a great album that reveals more with each play. Roots rock never sounded so essential. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Interview (August 2013)
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