This one goes out to all those No Depression readers and fans of that most wonderful of country-rock variants, Americana (or alt-country, if you prefer). Do you remember the first time you heard Wilco’s A.M., the Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass, Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby, and the Bottle Rockets’ The Brooklyn Side? Shee-yit, do I have an album for you.
There’s a band that toured with the Black Crowes last year called Truth & Salvage Co.â€”a collective of players who traffic in twangy guitars and high-lonesome harmonies, and who have played with Ben Folds Five, Jack Johnson, The Squirrel Nut Zippers, and a whole shitload of other acts you’ve never heard of. This Carolina-by-way-of-California combo features four lead vocalists among its six members, immediately evoking The Eagles (only cooler) and the Band (only less Canadian), with Black Crowe-in-Chief Chris Robinson producing. Their self-titled debut record will be freshly stocked in your local record store by the time you read this, and you must go right now to said establishment and purchase a copy. Why? Lemme tell you â€¦
I am a drinkerâ€”tried, true, and unrepentantâ€”and this album begins with a song called “Hail Hail” that makes me reach for a bottle whenever I hear it, regardless of where I amâ€”home, work, at the wheel, even in my sleep. Like any great song, the chorus is what kills ya:
Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here
With their heads full of reefer and their bellies full of beer
Sixteen years of livin’ the dream
We’re the pride of all our families
They, too, are unrepentant, Gawdblessum, and in just under four minutes, they manage to solve some of the world’s biggest problems in this state o’ mind:
My friend Walker’s got some answers
(Walker’s got some answers)
‘Bout our crisis with the oil
Says we all should ride horses
(Wild and roaming horses)
And dig our hands into the soil!
And yes, that last line is shouted.
“Walker,” it should be pointed out, is probably keysman Walker Young, who, in addition to being a genius at economic policy, sings “Call Back,” one of two songs on this record that must top the Billboard Country chart this year, if indeed that chart has a lick of integrity (I’m not holding my breath). “I got them hobo blues,” Young sings, “Keeps callin’ me right back home to you.” The band provides harmony that reiterates the sentiment, creating one of those great broken-heart songs that makes surviving heartbreak sound positively heroic.
“Welcome to L.A.” is the second of those should-be chart-toppers, given voice by drummer Bill “Smitty” Smith, who has to have the coolest grandmother in the world, cuz she gives him advice like “Work hard and keep your smile / And leave the rest to fate” before extolling the virtues of the City of Angelsâ€”among them “late-night dancin’ with the devil” and “late-night California lovin’.” My grandmother, when she was alive, canned cucumbers and went to bed at 6:00PM. “Smitty” wins. That he’s singing over a rollicking bed of acoustic guitars and in front of some very cool Eaglesque vocals just makes it that much more obvious.
The quality tuneage keeps on comin’. “Heart like a Wheel” (not the McGarrigles song) is a perfect three-minute pop tune about those moments when the glasses are empty, the lights are low, and you notice “it sure got late real early,” just before you ask her to stay a while longer. “101” is a terrific road song filled with memory and longing and not a little but of lust, and it rolls by like any good highway drive. And if I’m the only one who thinks “Old Piano” would’ve made a great Charlie Rich song, you can lock me up right now. Just let me take my iPod with me.
As for the production: remember how good Gary Louris’ Vagabonds sounded (I’m still talking to the Americana fans out there)? Truth & Salvage Co. sounds even better. Let us all at once bow in the direction of Chris Robinson, producer of both records, who probably supplied the new guys with a place to record, a place to stay, some good meals, and a ton of weed, all of which doubtless contributed to the loose vibe of the record. Not that you’d need a ton of weed for good vibes when the singing in the room is this good. But I’m sure it helped.
The record closes with “Pure Mountain Angel,” another Walker Young tune, about “a drifter, a farmer, and a singer” with “stories to tell that he kept to himself.” It might read like a clichÃ©, but the band piles on the harmony and the slow gospel piano and you believe every word. Indeed, by the time the band opens up and the hymn-like opening gives way to a bluesy guitar coda, “Pure Mountain Angel” comes off like the perfect benediction to a message you absolutely needed to hear, but didn’t realize it. This record is that good.