I can imagine it is sometimes difficult to be called an Americana band. I’ve heard a number of music fans hear that description and respond, “You mean they sound like Mumford and Sons, or The Avett Brothers?” That response is not only limiting, it’s unfair. Listening to The Drunken Hearts pending release, Wheels of the City, dispels the notion that they are a one dimensional entity. There is country, with pedal steel and banjo, as well as elements of soul, some of the classic Laurel Canyon sound, touches of rock comparable to Drive-By Truckers, and alt-country stylings reminiscent of Son Volt.
The album, recorded at Denver’s Silo Sound Studios, starts out with “Fire in a House,” slowly building an intro, leading to a verse, a piano melody, and continuing with layers of other instrumentation and backing vocals. The tune eventually deconstructs to some degree toward the end, sonically arriving back where it began. “Alive ‘n Free” reflects the overall upbeat feel of Wheels of the City, as evidenced by the lyrics
“Sometimes in life, you get to where you want to / Sometimes in love, you fall just where you’re meant to / Sometimes this world shows you how to be free / Alive ‘n free.”
The addition of strings and a female accompanying vocal on “Passchendaele” lend a sense of sad elegance to a song about one of the most prolonged battles of World War I, and a soldier discovering lost love after returning home from war. “In the Middle” is an uptempo tune that can easily have the listener singing along, tapping their toes and swaying to the music.
“Two Hearts (On a Limb)” perhaps best fits the “Americana” genre, although The Drunken Hearts display a much broader range than any one single style. That range is displayed on “Wheels of the City.” The title tune begins with a country music feel, and as horns come in midway through the song, it morphs a bit into a soul sound. That subtle transition reflects the chameleon-like qualities of the songs, and the band as a whole. By virtue of the way the songs take advantage of multiple band members’ instrumental skills, this may well be a group that hits its stride in live performances more so than in a recording studio. That’s not to say Wheels of the City is lacking in any way, it’s simply that some bands build their chops over the course of hundreds of live gigs, and the band took a decidedly different approach to this release – writing and recording eleven new songs in eleven days, rather than recording familiar pieces that had been road tested.
The album closes with “The Cave,” which begins with a spoken word intro and leads into an instrumental section which is markedly different than the rest of the album. As noted, the band’s novel approach to this recording was a rather daring roll of the dice, with unknown possibilities.
Wheels of the City will be released on multiple platforms as well as the band’s website on Friday, October 18. For more about the band, click here.
Key Tracks: Alive ‘n Free, Two Hearts (On a Limb), Wheels of the City
The Drunken Hearts current tour will provide opportunities to see them throughout New York State. All five of those shows are in support of Yonder Mountain String Band. The Saturday, October 19 show will be a homecoming of sorts for bassist and vocalist Jon Macartan, a native of nearby Guilderland, New York, in the capital region. The New York State days are listed below.
Wednesday, October 16, at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall Tickets here.
Thursday, November 11 at Brooklyn Bowl Tickets here.
Sunday, November 17 at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock Tickets here.