Alligator [Release date 20.05.16]
Moreland & Arbuckle are here to remind us that Heartland rock isn’t necessarily country music by another name. ‘Promised Land Or Bust’ their 7th album refines their signature roots-rock sound, built on memorable riffs, alternated soulful singing, deep grooves and sumptuous band interplay.
And while there’s a case to be made out for a connection between the band’s purposeful minimalist blues and their new label’s musical figure head Hound Dog Taylor, the truth is that Moreland & Arbuckle have long since honed their own broad based, uplifting roots rock style.
The trio steadfastly pursue their own musical path, which plugs into the contemporary fascination for cigar box guitars and roots music in general. What makes them different is that they have long outgrown their blues roots and rely on the quality of their songs to take them to another level.
Sure, they still dip into the past for inspiration, but over the course of their last few album’s they have added their idiosyncratic twist – both lyrically and musically – to nail a hi-energy style that strikes the perfect balance between finely honed songs, and a seamless performance style punctuated by subtle musical dynamics.
There’s barely a wasted note on this album, while their attention to detail – from the slide guitar lines and an array of harp tones, through to the ‘ooh’s and aah’s of the bv’s – tell you everything about a band that takes it music seriously and uses blues as a springboard for sundry other possibilities.
Moreland & Arbuckle is a power trio, but not in the conventional sense of the word. Their basic line-up of harp, cigar box guitar – Aaron Moreland doubles on electric guitars – and drums, relies on the strength of their compositions, fuelled by sweeping melodies and the sharp dynamics to compensate for a lack of a bass.
They are also a band with a lovely lived-in feel, born of a thousand one night stands, while their lyrics are infused with tales of the road and their own imagination.
If their last CD ’7 Cities’ album was loosely speaking a concept album, then this debut cut for Alligator records is a return to their core values of song driven, roots rocking blues with an undeniable soulful heart.
Essentially ‘Promised Land Or Bust’ acts as a reintroduction to a band that has spent its 15 year career carving out it’s own niche, and if there’s any semblance of disappointment in this album, it is simply that they don’t quite stretch out enough.
That said, none of their peers can touch the kind of irony that infuses the narrative of the closing ‘Why’d She Have To Go (And Let Me Down’): -”There ain’t nothing like a woman wearing overalls, playing records loud enough to nearly crack the walls, kept from making love until the song was through, but then made off with my records and speakers too”.
A combination of the wry lyrics and the subtlest of grooves draws the listener in without the need for overt soloing or power chords. This is bluesy roots at its very best as the band simmer cook and slip into a cool groove.
All their qualities are there in the opening two tracks, as ‘Take Me With You (When You Go)’ finds Dustin Arbuckle in fine voice on a slide-led groove, while ‘Mean And Evil’ is built on a train-time rhythm with a juxtaposition of harp and guitar breaks as the band hits its stride. ‘Long Did I Hide It’ enjoys the same rhythmic quality built on great stick work by Kendall Newby, whose lightness of touch pushes the band down the railway tracks, on a song with a catchy chanted hook.
The strength of the album though, lies in the way the trio explores different shades of the blues while remaining rooted to their own template. They rock, groove, boogie, swing and fleetingly explore a down-home style, but just like a stick of rock, they’ve still got their own DNA stamped all the way through it.
On ‘Hannah’ they embrace a grungy slide-led approach on a big wall of sound with a familiar narrative. Moreland adds a lovely distorted guitar tone over Newby’s exuberant cymbal splashes on a perfect example of the band’s inherent swagger.
In stark contrast, ‘Waco Avenue’ is a beautifully crafted acoustic ballad, sung with real feel and offset by a deft string arrangement that you might not expect to find on an album by such a high energy band.
And while the following ‘King Bee’ initially suggests a disappointing choice for a cover, they redress the balance by swinging with abandon. Dustin explores some deep-toned harp notes over a rip-roaring back beat, before Aaron adds a shrill toned guitar resolution that provides the perfect finish to the song.
The band grooves eloquently on ‘Long Way Back Home’, on the back of Newby’s peerless drumming on an understated piece that could have been stretched a little more, but as with the rest of this hugely enjoyable album, the band makes a virtue out of keeping the listener wanting more. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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