When I pop in a disc from a band based in Virginia (West, or just the plain one) or North Carolina, I get excited and my mind fills with preconceived notions of good ol’ smokey mountain boogie, complete with Dueling Banjos and Foggy Mountain Breakdowns. Unfair? Sure. True? Not really, I don’t think that all the time, but I’d be lying if I said it was totally untrue. Having said all of that, I do find satisfaction when I listen to the album and gain a sense of the band’s rootsy region tucked nicely inside their music.
The Atkinson’s (Official / Myspace) are, in fact, from Virginia and therefore fell victim to my preconceived silliness, but only for a moment (or the length of time for the first track to play). American Gothic slipped from the clutches of my sickness by the time the album’s second track, “Caroline” rolled around. This cut showcases an excellent fiddle feverishly fiddling, as well as lead singer Dickie Woods animated vocals (think a less hillbilly BR549). Woods vocal augments the urgency of the fiddle and when the chorus of, “Caroline, don’t know how you do it” hits, I can’t help but feel that I am listening to a Roots-Rock band that is putting their roots slightly ahead of the rock. The up-tempo fiddle and wonderfully manic vocals are the two traits that give this album its own distinctive identity. The signature fiddle sound also keeps revving on full-speed into the third track, “Watertown”. The fiddle does eventually slow down, but not as to create a gaping whole in the album’s sound. In “Part of Me”, the harmonies build up steam as the fiddle cries softly in the background.
Cuts like the album’s closer, “Best Thing” exemplify why it can dangerous for bands to float in the treacherous waters of comparison. Whether it be critics and bloggers that throw them in the water or even the band’s own press materials, there can often times be a lazy and reckless tendency to use Alt-Country Icons such as Drive by Truckers, Old 97’s or Son Volt to help convey the sound of the band to the desired listener. While this name-game can help a person understand what sonic the band is reaching for, or assist a friend in telling his buddy who a certain band “is like”, the comparison name-game can also often times miss the key elements of what makes the band unique and prevent someone from fully “getting” a certain band. In “Best Thing”, along with many of the tracks I have mentioned, it is Mike Ferry’s fiddle and Dickie Woods’ vocal that sets this disc and band apart from trail blazers such as the 97’s or Uncle Tupelo who rarely feature either fiddle or terribly “countrified” vocals.
American Gothic from The Atkinsons succeeds tremendously in providing us an introduction to a Roots-Rock band that will hopefully continue to expose their roots as the keep on rockin’.
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!!