Drunken Barn Dance
When Saturday Looks Good to Me keyboardist Scott Sellwood first formed Drunken Barn Dance a few years ago, he laid some ground rules: keep the number of tracks on each song to a handful, throw out a song if it requires more than a couple takes to record, alcohol is required, and have fun. It’s a formula Sellwood has followed from the project’s days as a solo outfit through Grey Buried, his first full-length, and first release with a full band. This approach keeps everything both raucous and organic; there isn’t a single instrument overdub on here.
Opener “The Last Desperate Stand of the Last Fair Man” is a prime introduction. Both feverish and joyous, it jitters on a quickly strummed acoustic guitar riff before shortly opening up its rhythm section and guitar leads for a powerful, summery explosion. Similarly, the great “A Winter’s Tale” careens around with a heady late night buzz of Greg McIntosh and Scott DeRoche’s harmonized guitars, and drummer Ryan Howard and bassist Jim Roll’s quick-pulsed beat.
Acting as a counterpoint to this whirlwind rock are tracks like the gentle, dark psychedelica of “Tapo Canyon Drowning” and “Time Spent Underground.” The former’s slow, flowing drone pays homage to the echoing, sparse landscapes of the west, while the latter’s ghostly arrangement rings out like a beautiful memory. Sellwood’s masterful ability to take a simple refrain and make it stick like a call to arms is exquisitely illustrated on this song’s statement of, “look out below, we’re above ya.”
The band’s pure recording techniques help ensure that the power of the DBD live experience translates on record. The album’s centerpiece, “No Love,” builds from a folk rambler to a brimstone burner over the course of its six-minute run time. It’s the best example on the album of the solid musicianship of all these performers and their ability to play off of each other.
People used to make the claim that The Hold Steady was America’s best bar band. That group has seen a bit of a change in mission statement in recent years. Drunken Barn Dance are more than worthy heirs to the title. Their music taps straight into the heart of the Midwest’s nostalgia, hard-luck characters, and love of solid rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s all done with drinks raised in salute.
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