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Wednesday, January 22
Album Review: Hard Working Americans- Debut Self Titled Album
Hard Working Americans is a brand new supergroup consisting of Todd Snider on vocals, Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) on bass, Neal Casal (Cardinals and Chris Robinson Brotherhood) on guitars and vocals, Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi) on the keys, and Duane Trucks (Col. Bruce Hampton’s School of Music) on the drums. This incredible mix of talent released their debut, self-titled album on January 21, 2014. Recorded at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios in San Rafael, CA, the album also features John Popper (Blues Traveler) and John Keane. Hard Working Americans consists of 11 tracks written by a wide variety of artists. The band, led by Snider, created their own arrangements of these classic songs that illustrate the lives of the working man.
“Blackland Farmer,” written by Frankie Miller, starts off the album with a gritty, Americana feel. This song discusses the dirty, yet happy, life of a “blackland farmer.” The verses are not long or complex, but they are very graphic. Although the music seems kind of devilish, the general message of the song is that the singer is happy to have his simple blackland existence.
“Another Train,” written by Will Kimbrough, has a slow, heavy-hitting blues/country-rock feel. The lyrics plead for a lover to come on the next train. The feel of the tune really brings out the feeling of spilling out one’s heart and putting everything on the line.
“Down to the Well” was the sole single that the band released. Originally written by Kevin Gordon and Lucinda Williams, this beautifully sung arrangement sounds like a mix of Jerry Garcia and Tom Petty.
“The Mountain Song” was written by Kieran Kane and very simply talks about going to the mountain to get some peace. It feels sort of like a very slow, bluegrass tune with rock electric guitar, even though the tempo is actually fairly quick.
“Stomp and Holler” feels more like a pop-country song. The only thing that saves this song from sounding too poppy is Snider’s voice. Other than that, it might as well be an Alan Jackson tune… not really feeling it. The lyrics are funny, however, and John Popper’s harmonica solo is awesome (no surprise there).
“Straight to Hell,” originally by Drivin’ N’ Cryin, tells a few amusing anecdotes in which the singer gets caught in trouble, followed by a very straightforward chorus that includes the title (don’t want to give too much away). The band’s arrangement of this tune is incredible.
“Welfare Music” is another pop-country sounding tune. Again, the lyrics are fun and the arrangement is solid, but it just feels too much like a Toby Keith or Carrie Underwood song.
“Mr. President Have Pity on the Working Man” is more of a traditional bluesy-country arrangement, which I like. Originally written by Randy Newman, Casal really makes the tune with his soulful lead guitar.
“Run a Mile” brings the album back the slow, heavy rock from the beginning of the album. The tune was written by Dan Herron and Chuck Mead, and the band’s arrangement plays to the strengths of all of its members (crafty vocals for Snider, deep lead-style bass for Schools, etc.). About half-way through the song we get a nice double-time section.
“I Don’t Have a Gun” presents a pretty sad story. Written by Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, the singer speaks of his sorrow and anger and how, if he had a gun, he would use it. The band’s arrangement has a nice, chill Americana groove to it.
“Wrecking Ball,” by Gillian Welch, finishes up the album with another somber tune, speaking about life spiraling downhill “like a wrecking ball.” Again, the band’s arrangement is not only beautiful, but very fitting for the mood of the song.
Overall, the album was great, except for the two songs that go too far over that line between modern country and traditional country. Other than that, the arrangements were great, and all of the members of the band played their parts succinctly, as expected given their talents. Also, the arrangements left lots of room for improvisation, so expect some jammin’ in their live sets. The only other criticism I could give is that I would’ve liked to see at least one or two originals on the album. I dig the idea of arranging the classic tunes to represent the troubles in the life of the working man, but I would have liked to see their own contributions added to the lineup. Check out Hard Working Americans and be sure to catch them live on their short tour!