The Righteous Hillbillies – Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway
Illinois’ own The Righteous Hillbillies have released their fourth album, Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway, to further propel a career that’s taken them from relatively obscurity to the forefront of the roots rock movement. Rather than distinguishing themselves by merely coughing up some recognizable chord changes and lyrical ideas, The Righteous Hillbillies have made a name for themselves by taking those aforementioned elements and using them as a highly individual form of self-expression proving the old adage true that you can pour old wine into new bottles and come up with a potent brew. Fronted by vocalist and rhythm guitarist Brent James, this five piece presents a classic sound placed in an utterly modern context with ten songs that remain faithful to the form while simultaneously providing them an ample opportunity for self-expression.
“Rollin’” begins things with fleet-footed skill. This is a band who knows how to swing, even on their harder-edged numbers, but “Rollin’” is cut in a much airier mold. There’s plenty of blues gravitas to be heard here, however, particularly in the way Nick Normando’s slide guitar licks slice through the mix and draw blood. “Throwing Stones”, however, is pure swinging blues that brings the hammer down, but it isn’t artless thrashing away. Normando’s authoritative and articulate blues guitar doesn’t lay on the clichés and, instead, weaves strong melodies around Barret Harvey and Jeff Bella’s rhythm section. The title track is, unquestionably, singer Brent James’ strongest vocal moment and he fills the often dramatic and atmospheric track with a tremendous amount of presence. The sound of this track varies some from the surrounding material as it prizes nuance in a much more overt fashion.
The acoustic and electric blues guitar filling “Down to Memphis” with much of its grit elicits an equally rugged vocal from James and conjures up visions of the rural South without ever being too hamfisted about it. “Drama Zone” is probably the brashest blues rock number on Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway and makes no secret about its desire to overwhelm the listener but, nonetheless, swings hard from the outset. Drummer Barret Harvey deserves a particular mention here for his performance. Much of that capacity for swing is equally in effect on the album’s penultimate track “Shackles & Chains”. It shows off every bit of the band’s prowess for blues rock without ever dialing up the intensity in the same way as the preceding song does. James belts out an especially soul performance, but there’s undoubted power in his voice as well.
The finale “Rock Salt & Nails” is a great closer because it dispenses with all of the electrified fire and brimstone of the preceding songs in favor of a much more muted, but equally bluesy, ending. The fourth album from The Righteous Hillbillies brings everything to the table you’d expect and more. Producer Brent James has done an exceptional job of capturing the band’s live sound while still accentuating the band’s strengths in the best possible way.
9 out of 10 stars