NQ Arbuckle, Kathy Kallick and North of Nashville (Album Reviews)
NQ Arbuckle - The Future Happens Anyway
"So I’ll see you around / just as often as I can," the gravelly voice of Neville Quinlan snarls on "Back to Earth", the opening track on the long awaited The Future Happens Anyway. It’s been six years since the last album by the rollicking alt-country band. This might seem like an odd sentiment for a band, but it’s an accurate one: there’s been plenty of touring, and a joint project with Carolyn Mark helped pass the time as well.
Quinlan describes the album as being about “knowing what’s going to happen. We’re all gonna die… You probably want to make an active choice about how you are going to live your life.” The thirteen songs that make up make up The Future Happens Anyway are a reflection on the unpredictability of life and the impact of choices made. "Panic Pure" looks forward ("As of late / looking forward to the future / although I’ve never been much a planner"), while songs like "I Wish That My Sadness Would Make You Change" stare into the past and reflect on choices already made.
If there’s a sense of sentiment to the album it comes from Quinlan’s lyrics rather than the album. Rather than leaning on time honoured chord changes and the twang of traditional country, most of The Future Happens Anyway is driven by a strong beat and bassline. The album's downtempo moments - "The Civil War is Over" is a standout track - make for compelling listening, drawing the listener deep into the story and demanding to be put on repeat.
The Future Happens Anyway would be a perfect soundtrack for the kind of long drive that starts with no set destination. It’s perfect listening for those moments where you have a clear sense of purpose but not a specific direction. It’s an album that can simultaneously inspire reflection and inspiration. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the sound of your own past and future in here. Crafting songs like that is a pretty special skill.
It may have been six years since the last NQ Arbuckle record, but no matter; with a result this good, every day is worth waiting. Patience, after all, is a virtue.
Kathy Kallick - Cut to the Chase
If NQ Arbuckle eschews easy classification, Kathy Kallick’s Cut to the Chase is less challenging. From the opening notes of "Tryin’ So Hard to Get to You", there’s no doubt that you’re listening to a bluegrass album. There’s plenty of pedal steel, upright bass, fiddle and mandolin in the mix.
Tradition isn’t a bad thing, though. In this case, it provides a comfortable base on which Kallick builds a solid album that doesn’t rely on the cliches of the genre. Rather than being a lament on things lost, the album’s title track is an upbeat, perky number that looks at change with a solid mandolin riff for a chorus. "Seattle’s never gonna be the place it used to be" Kallick sings. “We never talk about that time / we put it on a shelf”, while a dog barks in the background.
The album shifts tempo regularly, which means there’s something here for every mood. Kallick’s reputation as a songwriter is well established and that’s demonstrated in fine form here. Every song tells a story, and the lyrics exhibit a complexity that’s missing from many bluegrass-sounding albums. Her voice pairs nicely with the tone of the mandolin playing.
If I get to spend the few days in a cabin in the woods that I’m hoping for in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be packing a mandolin and this album. My playing won’t be nearly up to the standards on Cut to the Chase (and I certainly won’t be singing), but this is the kind of album that showcases what modern bluegrass should be: recognizing the past, but with a contemporary lyrical twist. Highly recommended.
Kathy Kallick's Cut to the Chase can be ordered from iTunes.
North of Nashville - Self-Titled
If you’re looking for your country with a straight ahead dose of Western, the debut release from North of Nahville may be for you. The duo hails from Maine - well north of Nashville indeed - and have produced a collection of songs that are radio friendly and easy to listen too. Basiner’s voice has a good, rich, twangy tone to it.
The songs on the album touch on familiar themes of the genre ("Tryin’ to make it right / the best way I can / takes everything I have / just not to call you again” opens "One Night of Pretending") but do it well. The songs here would sound comfortable next to some of Bad Blake’s material from the Crazy Heart soundtrack.
If you’re a fan of straight-ahead country drop this disc into your the CD player of your pickup truck on your next drive down a dusty road. You’re sure to find your toe tapping. As a debut, it sets a solid musical ground to build a career on - it’ll be interesting to see what follows as the band’s personality begins to take shape.