The Righteous Hillbillies – Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway
Since their 2008 debut, The Righteous Hillbillies have shared stages with a virtual who’s who of American roots music luminaries and earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most pre-eminent and popular live acts in that area. Their three recordings have earned fulsome praise from important voices in the genre who recognize their faithfulness to tradition while signaling them out for their fresh revitalization of longstanding forms. It’s difficult to deliver anything beyond entertainment with this music – experienced listeners have, frankly, heard all of the possible songs in every possible permutation. The Righteous Hillbillies, however, recognize a critical point few of their peers in this genre ever fully understand – blues rock in 2016 will only succeed and show staying power if the artist or performers in question infuse these hoary conventions with as much of their personality and experiences as they can bring to bear. The Righteous Hillbillies’ fourth album, Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway, bear the fruits of that lesson.
The first example of how well this album has turned out is the opener “Rollin’”. Keen-eared listeners might expect a certain feel from a track entitled as such, but The Righteous Hillbillies delivers something a little unexpected by not opting for overwhelming the listeners, like many similar bands might so soon out of the gate, but creating a leaner, much more tasteful opener instead. Nick Normando’s slide guitar has a nice combination of teeth and soul while the rhythm section of Jeff Bella on bass and Barret Harvey on drums answers with among the finest of their many fine outings on this album. “Throwing Stones” harnesses much more outright blues rock power, foregoing subtlety in favor of hammering away at listeners, but the result is just as enjoyable, albeit in a different fashion. It’s likely an underrated facet of the band’s strength how adept Brent James is at mixing up his vocal approach, never relying on just one tone, and can sound just as comfortable with full on rock as he does with a more purist blues approach.
Organ really makes a difference on “All Down But Nine”. It transforms a straight ahead, uptempo guitar rocker into something much meaty than it might otherwise sound and Barret Harvey’s powerful drumming is a crucial ingredient for making this stand out from the pack. The title song relies much more on atmospherics than many of the album’s other tracks and, despite sharing a similar running time to the album’s surrounding tracks, it patiently evolves with idiosyncratic flair while still incorporating a number of expected turns. The down home feel of “Down to Memphis” recalls the Mississippi Delta much more than southern Tennessee, but no matter; Normando’s slide guitar helps guide this song to a successful musical conclusion and James’ singing shows the same versatility on display during the earlier songs. The start-stop arrangement of “Drama Zone” has organ ably filling the gaps and creates a seamlessly gritty musical experience that ranks among the best moments on Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway. This is a fantastic recording from beginning to end and the album’s ten songs pay proper tribute to the past while maintaining a heavy foot in the present.
9 out of 10 stars