If you were to ask me just how to categorize this latest release from this North Carolina-based group, which they put out in May, I would just have to shrug my shoulders and say “I dunno.” It’s not really country, not really rock, has some elements of blues and even a touch of brass, but honestly comes across more like just what the band felt like playing at the particular moment in time they were writing the song.
That doesn’t make this a bad album at all – just one where the reviewer has to think a little bit. My first impression upon hearing the title track that leads the album was that these guys wanted to sound like the Grateful Dead. Nothing wrong with that, they were a trailblazing group for many a jam band. But then that wasn’t the vibe I got when She Kept My Room Warm began playing, because for some odd reason that brought me back to thinking of that sort of pop-country hybrid that was popular for a bit back in the day when I was a kid and my parents had the radio on.
Since I wasn’t the greatest fan of that genre, I was relieved to hear the classic call-and-respond blues-rock styling of It’s Always Something, a hard-luck tale that has a nice lick and coda to it. Lyrically it finds its mirror with the second song afterward that I’ll get to in a moment, but instead the band follows up with a more piano-based bluesy slower jam called Lord Have Mercy. Then it’s You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down, which is a musical kitchen sink of sorts with plenty of piano and sax thrown in (each gets its own bridge) and some fuzzed-out vocals added for good measure. It’s one of the two songs on the set that runs over six minutes; with the exception of She Kept My Room Warm and the final track Lemonade Blues, all of the songs run over four minutes.
The band gets just a tad funky to start the back half with the quirky Love Monkey, and has next perhaps its biggest misstep of the bunch with Soul Sistah. Normally I’m a fan of backing harmony, but in this song it just doesn’t work well. I think it’s because the lyrical runs seem too short, so the repetition on the harmony comes too quickly. I see why it was done on this song (which is the only one with a female backing vocal) based on concept, but it could have done without.
They redeem themselves on the next track, though, which I think is the best of the set: an inspirational tune called On The Mend. I really loved the great chorus line where “I looked the Grim Reaper in the eye/And I told him ‘Nice try.'” This leads into a song called West LA Fadeaway. It starts and ends with a lyric line, but in between it’s sparse patches of (sometimes quite strange and obscure) lyric between some very nice bridges that make up the bulk of the six-minute-plus song.
Finally, we come to the last simple acoustic number called Lemonade Blues, which is just vocals and guitar and runs only about 2 1/2 minutes. But I can just see Rich sitting on a barstool in a club singing this as the break song for the rest of the band during a three hour show. (He got his break on the last song with all the bridges.)
There are some people I can think of who would probably be big fans of these guys, who don’t seem to be the touring type anymore but are in the promoting business around their home base of Greensboro. (Case in point: they headline a charity event they call Groove Jam, which will have its sixth rendition in September. Years ago I posted about how musicians are often the most willing to give their time and talent, and it’s not just here on Delmarva.)
As I always do, though, I encourage you not to take my word for it, but listen for yourself. (Spotify doesn’t bite, I have it on my laptop.) You may take it or you may leave it, but you will find it rather interesting.