TAKING HUGE STRIDES They’re going This Way.
It's clear This Way are a vastly improved band from their debut We Could All Make History in 2008. The addition of Andrew Martelle on fiddle and change in direction toward a more traditional stringband sound showed promise on 2011's Goodbye Forever and has now crystallized with the newly released The Story of Simon Pure. This is a cohesive, smartly constructed album of rootsy songs that draw on rock and commercial country themes, but This Way do a pretty good job of putting an original stamp on the package as a whole.
Part of that is just frontman Jason Basiner, himself. I'm confident there aren't more than two or three performers in the state who've played as many gigs as he has in the last couple of years — heck, his and Martelle's mostly-covers side project, North of Nashville, don't shy from gigs that go five and six hours. That kind of woodshedding has resulted in a very confident vocalist and acoustic guitar player, with energy off which the rest of the band can draw.
Truly, this has become a very good live band, a group of performers who know how to sell it from the stage. Smartly, the band decided to pour this into their recording, working with Jon Nolan to engineer an album that was recorded mostly live in the studio. That absolutely comes through, both in the sparks they manage to throw off and the songwriting, which makes good use of the type of dynamics that builds tension to a crescendo that makes a big crowd happy.
After a straight kick-drum open from drummer Charlie Sichterman on "Tulsa, OK," Basiner joins him on vocals and acoustic guitar before — bang! — the full band comes firing in. On the strutting, nearly rockabilly title track they close out the chorus by swelling the three-part harmony until it pops with a delicious all-stop.
All this playing together has made those harmonies, fueled by Anna Patterson at the high end and with Martelle dancing in between, seem almost effortless, even raucous, but still rock solid. They're really the heart of the band's appeal.
Going all-live on a studio album can have its drawbacks, though. Sometimes, songs like "Greetings from St. Louis" that are likely enjoyable at nearly five minutes live seem to drag on record. The tune, a narrative of place like many tracks here, could lose a minute without anyone noticing. And it's likely no coincidence that they've chosen to cover a Police tune (the very quick "Walking on the Moon," interestingly also covered on the brand-new Infamous Stringdusters album), given that This Way indulge in repeated choruses the way that Sting and the boys were wont to do. Belting out "we'll see what time brings" four times to finish this song gives the crowd more chances to sing along live. On record it feels a little like a hammer to the skull.
The core of "Illusion" — "This home is an illusion, this home is everywhere" — is a virtual jackhammer.
The choice to keep Martelle's fiddle just about exclusively in the right channel (and Basiner's acoustic guitar mostly in the left) is a strange one, too. Maybe it's meant to mimic their places on stage, but Martelle is a very strong player doing some interesting things and I'd like to hear it in stereo.