Hard Working Americans have released The First Waltz, a live recording of powerful rock numbers with songwriting that any blue collar working, freedom-loving Americans can easily rock out to, start to finish. Only a year old, Hard Working Americans includes Dave Schools on bass, (Widespread Panic) guitarist Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood), Chad Staehly on keys (Great American Taxi), Duane Trucks on drums and guitarist Jesse Aycock. The album will have a visual component when a film of the same name, directed by Justin Kreutzmann, is released later this year, offering insight and a snapshot of the start of this supergroup. The album debuted October 28 and can be picked up on iTunes or in the band’s store.
Opening up with “Blackland Farmer”, the vibe of Tom Waits “Goin Out West” is present as slow grooving blues, intertwined with “New Speedway Boogie” lyrics. Pedal steel guitar from Aycock enters into Michael Houser territory. A dual song, “Another Train/Working Man Blues” included a mild and driving “Train” that picks up with “Working Man Blues”. Snider remarks on “Mission Accomplished”, “It was the great Billy Joe Shaver who once said that ‘God loves ya the most when you dance'”, and with that Duane Trucks sets a beat in the vein of “Not Fade Away” while Casal plays a catchy Mexicali riff. A Jekyll and Hyde song, “Run a Mile”, begins with patient blues and halfway in takes this speed of ‘4’ and doubles it to an ‘8’, albeit briefly, building back up to a ‘6’ as the band rocks out.
Todd Snider’s vocals are gritty, powerful and thought-provoking, particularly in “I Don’t Have a Gun”, where his songwriting skills add an emotional weight, referencing a drunk night and confrontation of which Snider opines in a grateful escape, “I’m so glad that I don’t have a gun.” A great deal of instrumental prowess from the full band is to be found on “The Mountain Song”, but it is on “Straight to Hell”, a marquee song for Hard Working Americans, that the band and Snider’s songwriting shine. An established sing-along for the nascent group, Snider sings the words “I’m goin’ straight to hell, just like my momma said, I’m goin’ straight to hell”, with such conviction, you feel empathy for such a determined view of the afterlife. The flipside to “Straight to Hell” is “Stomp and Holler”, a footstomper aided by Trucks’ kick drum, inspiring and motivating any audience to play along from start to finish.
“Guaranteed” has the potential to drift into uncharted territory in a live setting, venturing into the somewhat uplifting blues-tempo and forgoing any noodling when rocking through it suffices, while “Wrecking Ball” stands alone as the most emotionally charged song of the album. The final track, “Come From the Heart”, featuring Roseanne Cash is a soulful and inspiring love song. All throughout, Snider, Schools, Casal, Staehly, Trucks and Aycock give a powerhouse clinic of collaboration, sounding as though the band has been together for a decade when they are just about to turn 1 with The First Waltz.
Key Tracks: Blackland Farmer, Straight to Hell, Stomp and Holler