Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Righteous Hillbillies - Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway

The Righteous Hillbillies - Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway 

A lot of music fans dismiss the blues as a relic of America’s musical past, a carnival of clichés recalling the distant past without any relevance to modern music. The Righteous Hillbillies would certainly dispute that idea. The ten songs on their fourth studio album, Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway, are ripped from modern life and surrounded with a vital blues rock backing that’s handled with considerable skill and isn’t ever used as a cudgel. Instead, the band understands the slightly behind the beat and emotive value inherent to the blues without ever pandering for the audience’s attention. Vocalist Brent James and lead guitarist Nick Normando stand out from the pack on many of the album’s songs, but the other three band members are equally strong in serving this material to its maximum potential. The band’s three preceding albums make perfect sense when hearing this new release – rather than settling for staid invocations of the musical past, they’ve scooped up this time-tested American art form and set squarely in the present without any hint of irony.

The feeling of inspiration on these tracks comes with the first song. “Rollin’” highlights drummer Barret Harvey’s crucial role in making The Righteous Hillbillies’ engine hum. His series of rolls throughout the track shows great timing and Nick Normando and vocalist Brent James’ guitar work spars over the top with great spark. “Throwing Stones” brings Normando’s slide guitar playing more to the surface and the tempo gives it a high stepping, groovy energy that never abates. Brent James’ singing matches that tempo in both feel and inspiration without ever laying things on too thick. “Shake This Feeling” has a great barrelhouse roll from the start and James’ gives a leering, entertaining vocal that makes the song all the more enjoyable. The title song stands out from the other nine as one of the album’s most considered tracks, full of original but blues-derived imagery that shows off James’ songwriting talents in perhaps unexpected ways. James throws himself head long into the long slide guitar drawl of “Down to Memphis”; in the hands of lesser bands, this would all sound like hollow posing, but The Righteous Hillbillies nail songs like this with total sincerity and a significant amount of style. 

“Drama Zone” has a big, sludgey blues riff that makes everything go, but everything would be a little paler without the sympathetic rhythm section work and another great James vocal. Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway finishes up with “Rock Salt & Nails”. Some might expect such an ending after the bluster and chest-beating soul preceding it, but the effect is still strong to end this album with an understated acoustic blues. The Righteous Hillbillies bring a lot of fire to these songs, but they harness a variety of approaches to get this collection over. There isn’t an unsuccessful song on this release, but it isn’t because the band aims their sights low. Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway is a powerful effort that will invigorate blues fans and has the potential to earn many new fans for the band. 

9 out of 10 stars  

William Elgin III

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