Country music has that bad rap for being nothing but songs for sad sacks with dead dogs, lost women, and drinking problems, but country music got ruined by over-production and under-performance, not the content of the lyrics. In fact, there’s nothing at all wrong with reveling in whiskey, beer, bitter women, and sweet heartache, as long as the guitars are hot, the backbeat’s driving, and no one expects me to feel an ounce of sympathy.
|Songs Of Sin And Redemption|
Released by the Molenes | with the Starlings | at the North Star Cafe, in Portland | June 13 | at the Stone Church, in Newington NH | June 14
Dave Hunter and his Molenes know this well, and their second album, Songs of Sin and Redemption, shows they’re more than just a guitar band (Hunter is a ripping guitar player; the first Molenes album, This Car Is Big, had maybe too much evidence of that fact), with plenty of banjo, organ (Thomas Ferry’s doing), dobro, pedal steel (from guest Bruce Derr), and an ability to cruise around much of the Americana songbook, from bluegrass to rockabilly to country and pop rock.
The new disc’s first two tracks are evidence enough, with “Redemption” introducing a rolling right hand on the banjo in the left channel, then a quickly accompanying mandolin in the right. Finally, Andrew Russell’s bass joins in and ushers the instrumental into a melodic chorus. Everything’s quick, but not trying too hard. Then, at the one-minute mark, you start to hear it — Is there a mic on somewhere it shouldn’t be? Is your speaker blown? — a feedback drone low in the mix that builds into an almost painful thrum, finally crashing into “There’s a Sufferin’,” which introduces a great falling-down hook paired with a wood-block keeping time (drummer Zach Field is excellent throughout) and a warm guitar tone that is classic alt-country.
If you’re a headphone listener, you might find the band overuse the trick of isolating instruments in one channel or the other, but you can’t say they don’t pay attention to the production here, as Jon Nolan combines with the band to layer in the many instruments (most of them stringed) wonderfully. The closing “Trouble in the Corn,” especially, does everything right, from the pairing of the low lead vocals with the high harmony in the chorus to the deranged dobro/electric guitar break in the bridge and the late congas.
“Silver Stars” sounds a little like a Dick Curless tune, “Pain Express” could have been on Nashville Skyline, and “Step on It” features shades of the Dead’s Workingman's Dead, mirroring Jerry’s guitar tone beautifully. This 12-tune collection represents a tremendous upgrade over the Molenes debut and establishes them as one of New England's premier alt-country/Americana bands. If you get a chance to see them, take advantage of it, and ask for “Beacom’s Farm,” which must just be positively revelatory live, a “Devil Went Down to Georgia” for the new century.
On the Web
The Molenes: www.themolenes.com