Album Review

Chuck Johnson and Charlyhorse Turn Barb Wire Into a Razor Sharp Debut

Chuck Johnson & Charlyhorse - Barb Wire

Chuck Johnson and Charlyhorse make a sound that’s unerringly honest. It shows in their obvious reverence for any number of roots rock/country rock forebears, but it also comes across in a way that still sounds fresh and contemporary. Granted, it’s a crowded musical field these days, but happily, that kind of genuine authenticity still counts for something. It’s little wonder then that Barb Wire rings with familiarity even on first listen. The themes this North Carolina-based band sings about aren’t uncommon -- small towns and the people that populate them, folks who live their lives with both faith and determination. Barb Wire factors in all those elements while still referencing the usual suspects -- the Byrds, the Burrito Brothers, the Band, Pure Prairie League, Cash, Clark, Prine and Van Zandt -- while still keeping their options open as far as asserting their own sound. 

That becomes obvious from the album’s initial introduction, the rough and tumble rocker “Birmingham.” The song’s ready refrain catches hold immediately, making for the kind of chorus that simply refuses to let go. The track that follows, a tender ballad called “Elaina,” has a similar effect, but its gentle melody practically begs an embrace. The vivid imagery conjures up a view of faraway sunsets taking their last bow over an open prairie. Indeed, it’s as breathtaking as the scene it suggests. “The Effort” continues along that gentle track, effectively giving the album a solid one, two, three punch less than a quarter way through. The rhythms rise and fall, but the music’s rugged determination remains intact, effortlessly combining that aforementioned authenticity with ease and affability. (See if you’re not singing along with the homespun “Gray Coat” from the first repeated chorus on.) Suffice it to say, only one album in, Charlyhorse emerge as clear contenders.