Country, Little Rock style
Good Time Ramblers return with second album, Bigelow Strange.
The new album from Little Rock country rock outfit the Good Time Ramblers is eight tracks long. That’s a damn shame. Because the abum, filled with stories of teens stealing dad’s whiskey, dying mom-and-pop stores and girls breaking hearts, is so good from start to finish that one wishes it went on a little longer.
But sometimes you take what you get, and so it is with Bigelow Strange, the Good Time Ramblers’ follow-up to their May 2009 release Nashville Cowboy.
Describing the Good Time Ramblers’ sound as country rock doesn’t do it justice. There’s more to the band’s sound. The blues, folk and rock ’n’ roll all find their way into the Ramblers’ music. Call it Americana country — rambunctious when needed and high-lonesome at other times.
That the Good Time Ramblers are not a country band in the modern sense of the definition is evident from the beginning of Bigelow Strange. No, these guys are much better than Nashville, Tenn., country. There’s nothing overly polished here. The Good Time Ramblers only deal in genuine music.
The first track is “Illegal Things,” a driving country rocker that finds spaces in its rhythm for excellent steel guitar and a touch of organ. And John Lefler, lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the Ramblers, sets the stage for the album with his opening words: “Some say my momma should’ve never had me/But things ain’t always like they supposed to be.”
Besides Lefler, the band includes Rich Dwiggins on bass and vocals, Jeff Coleman on piano, organ and vocals, Alex Piazza on lead, pedal steel and lap steel guitars and Brooks Browning on drums. Joining the guys’ club for backup vocals on “Illegal Things” and “Burning Fields” is Little Rock singer/songwriter Mandy McBryde.
While Dwiggins and Browning secure each tune with a rock-solid rhythm, Piazza and Coleman are allowed the freedom to pepper the tracks with their immense talents. Check out Coleman’s work on “Illegal Things.”
Elsewhere on the album, Piazza’s steel weeps and slides its way throughout the more laid-back “Six Feet Deep” before the band returns to its hard-charging country rock ways with “Last In Line.” “What You Gonna Do Then” is an acoustic ballad that the band fleshes out with distorted guitars, and “Burning Fields” is an ambling, back-porch shuffle. “Sideways” is another rocker. Eight songs in the batch, and Bigelow Strange doesn’t suffer a single misstep.
Bigelow Strange was recorded in two different places. “Illegal Things” and “Burning Fields” were recorded in 2011 with Jason Tedford at Wolfman Recording Studios. The rest of the album was recorded during 2012 by Coleman. The band turned an empty house into a recording studio and spent four days writing and recording what would become the rest of Bigelow Strange.
The tunes are credited to the band, but Lefler is the chief songwriter, and he describes the band’s songwriting as a process that changes from week to week. “Sometimes the lyrics come first, and sometimes someone will come up with a hook out of the blue and we build around it,” he says. “Half of the time we write a song and for about two days we are excited about it, then the next time we play it, it sucks. We really took our time on this one. We originally recorded about 13 songs and ended up only keeping eight of them. We wanted to record something that would keep people’s attention from start to finish.” That Bigelow Strange does.
Although the band’s name stirs images of a gang of guys living the good life and having some fun, Ramblers’ tunes cover subject matters that usually don’t mirror good times. Consider the band’s words realistic. Take the gritty soul rock of album closer “Nothing Left.” The tune is powered by a sprinkling guitar lead and an upbeat, grinding rhythm, but Lefler, whose voice sounds as if it has lived the tales it delivers, sings of roses being dead, winter winds and being cold “from my head through my heart down to the souls of my shoes.” But he’s not asking for any pity. And he’s somewhat defiant. “Whatever happens ... sit and hope for the best until there’s nothing left,” he sings.
“Someone once said to us after a show, ‘Your band name is the Good Time Ramblers, but a lot of your songs are about depressing subjects,’” Lefler says of the band’s tunes. “I guess writing a song about how awesome your day went never really seemed that interesting to us.”
Who needs happy songs? Especially when you got the songs of the Good Time Ramblers. The band has just about perfected their foot-stomping, good-timing Americana country music. And the great Bigelow Strange only leaves music fans asking for more.
SEE THE SHOW
The Good Time Ramblers visit Stickyz this Friday for the CD release party of their new album, Bigelow Strange. The opening act and cover for the 18-and-up show are to be announced, but expect the music at 9 p.m. Bigelow Strange is available via iTunes.