Raise your hand if you are tired of hearing much buzzed about indie bands being hyped with comparisons to The Band (my hand is raised as high as I can raise it). Darling indie bands such as Fleet Foxes, Dr. Dog and many others, while very good and deserving of credit for their tight harmonies and often soulful musicianship that do indeed hearken back to an earlier time, generally don’t remind me much of the fun, loose vibe of The Band, especially in their “Big Pink” days.
The new CD from Slithering Beast, Midnight Royalty (Last Train Records) brings to mind much of the breezy and loose feel of Danko, Robertson, Helm and Company. The disc does this and avoids being purely derivative, as the country elements of the record shine more brightly than they did in the Band’s catalog. Lead singer/songwriter, Nick Dittmeier gets the disc off to a positive start with “It Just Don’t Make Sense”. The bouncy, non-country feel of the trumpet at the track’s beginning gives way to a stone cold pedal steel that can’t be anything but Country Gold. What Dittmeier lacks in true vocal strength and range is made up in how well his warm twang is lent to the comfy feel that unfurls from track to track.
“Deconstructed Man” is another track that serves as a time machine of sorts. Harmonies, pedal steel and even a Bakersfield groove on the lead guitar weaves a common thread within this track and many others on the disc. Accessible lyrics that tell a story without being too elementary are as key to the success of this album as the instrumentation and arrangements are. In “Clark Country Blues” we get a glimpse of Dittmeiers view of his home environs when he says “Nobody wants to go home, they just dont wanna be here” and when he tells of how many residents “wish for yesteryear“.
Being old-school without sounding old and incorporating various styles that create a cohesive sound helps me see the difference between most rock bands that consider themselves “Alt-Country” and bands that simply look to make music that is truly influenced by their musical heroes while still possessing total ownership of the creation. Next time you see yet another indie band compared to The Band, or Uncle Tupelo or even the Allman Brothers, listen to see if you hear what I have heard in this record, and that would be not only a sound that is reminiscent of the legendary act being compared to, but to the spirit of that act as well.
About the author: I likes me some wine, women and waffles, not always in that order (but usually). Chaucer is cool, but fart jokes are even better. You feel like spikin' your country with a little soul or mix in a little rock without the roll? Lemme hear from ya!!