For whatever reason, intuition told me even before I heard a note of this album, that this was going to be something special. Not because I have a predisposition for anything Big Star-aligned or because it’s by a Memphis-based band or because it was recorded at Ardent. No – I knew it was going to be good because of the idea behind it: this is a concept album about a band who hits the road in early spring, but now finds the time flying by them in the late autumn, on winter’s cusp. The songs are the band’s setlist and the lyrics are about their experiences; hence the title Road Ready. Already, I embraced the set-up. But then I listened. AND I WAS RIGHT.
This album of all-original material, written by Jimmy Stephens, Jr. (who handles lead vocals/bass and rhythm guitar), long-time mainstay of the Memphis music scene, is executed with fire, skill, a sense of abandon and passion along with Adam Hill on guitar and Jody Stephens (Jimmy’s brother) on drums; all three sing on-the-one harmonies. Jimmy’s lead vocals are warm and fluid – gentle on the softer songs (such as the gorgeous ballad with strings, “Caroline”) and pure rock and roll on the rest. The guitar work of Adam Hill is twangy, crisp and just right for every track – the familiar tone of a 12-string Rickenbacker is everywhere and welcomed like the beloved friend it is. Jody Stephens’ powerhouse drumming is, as always, tasteful and fits each song’s needs. And the production – in this instance, handled by Jimmy Stephens Jr. and Adam Hill – is as good as it gets. You can hear and feel the dynamics of the rhythm section; the vocals are clean and guitars are given the right touch.
For the tracks, just to give a glimpse to this 13-song collection: “Friday Night” is a class-A singalong, anthemic number (and joining the harmonies is the incredible Vicki Loveland [of Loveland Duren fame]); “Good Love” is a top-notch instant pop classic in the most perfect radio-friendly way with great background vocals and chugs along with a feeling of joy; “Tell Me”, with its McCartneyesque bass figures, is one of the album’s standouts – catchy, taut and meaty. As stated earlier, “Caroline” is a beautiful ballad with haunting cello and violin; “Highway 64 Blues” is a wonderful throwback to good old road songs and yet does not sound dated in the least.
13 songs – of pure delight and melody. That’s the most important element of this album. Jimmy Stephens delivers 13 songs that have all the elements right – melodies, structure, catchiness – songs that will stay in your head, which says it all. Balls-out, no bullshit, no frills rock and roll but with smarts and heart. This is IT. It’s my favorite new album – already made its way onto my iPod. Seek this album out as soon as you possibly can.