Having listened to music, specifically roots music, for as long as I have it is seldom that an approach to music surprises me.
The Drunken Hearts’ Wheels of the City caught me off-guard. I wasn’t expecting to listen to an album fairly regularly over the course of two months, and even more frequently as my self-imposed (but still tardy to release day) deadline approached, and still have no idea where to start writing.
Wheels of the City isn’t like anything else I’ve encountered this year. It isn’t measurably different from a hundred other CDs that have made their way to me this year, and it certainly isn’t demonstrably better or worse that the rest of the Americana-infused roots rock albums I’ve come across.
But stand out it does. Make no mistake, it is a terrific album, and one I’ve come to increasingly appreciate as the weeks have passed.
Somewhere between Counting Crows and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats you’ll find The Drunken Hearts. A five-piece band from Colorado, The Drunken Hearts released their fourth recording this autumn, and it is in many ways entirely splendid.
Working again with original producer Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth), the group’s southern roots appear not only in the impressive voice of Shreveport’s Andrew McConathy, but in the arrangements and melodies infused with pedal and lap steel, fiery electric guitars, and Kenney Jones-style drumming.
McConathy (acoustic & electric guitars) is joined by Arkansas natives Kory Montgomery (electric & acoustic guitars and vocals) and Cody Russell (pedal and lap steel, and Dobro) as well as bassist Jon McCartan and Alex Johnson (drums and percussion.) Carbone adds piano, organ, and violin to select tracks, and provides a scene-setting voiceover on “The Cave,” an instrumental jam that should have been extended by several more minutes.
Individual song highlights include the ‘aftermath of war’ epic “Passchendaele,” a beautiful, tragic song, and “Shining Eyes,” a ripping number that challenges our understanding of devotion. Potentially lost mid-set is “Two Hearts (On A Limb),” a nostalgic country-rock charmer.
Featuring a horn section, the title number is a powerhouse piece of songwriting, an examination of the divide between the haves and have-nots, and the societal and political ill will fostering the status quo. Late in the set, “Dream of Waiting” provides further evidence of The Drunken Hearts’ musical dexterity, a homage perhaps to Tom Petty’s approach to southern rock.
Individual songs are appealing and hold-up, but Wheels of the City works best as a whole, an emotional and ultimately uplifting album to be enjoyed in all settings.
And a take of Rodney’s “Bluebird Wine” from a few years ago: