Title: Still Go On
Artist: Big Shoals
Release Date: 2014 April 24
Genre: Roots Rock
License: CC BY-NC-SA
Label: Self Release / BandCamp
Hailing from Gainesville, Florida, Big Shoals is a three-piece band producing music that is frequently referred to as “roots rock” with a healthy dose of Americana and country twang. On their first release we get a healthy dose of how this music has evolved since it was originally known as country rock back in the 70’s and 80’s — when it was a young style. Let’s see how the kid still goes on with Big Shoals.
Still Go On
I alluded to the idea of roots rock or country rock having been around for several decades in the introduction. In fact, country rock can be traced back to (at least) the 1960’s with Buffalo Springfield, which gave birth to Poco in the 1970’s. Possibly the most influential (for me at least) country rock acts were in the 1980’s with The Outlaws and Molly Hatchet.
Since then there have been lots of changes in country rock and related musical styles. There has been a healthy revival of folk and bluegrass music, and a general move of country music into a more slick, pop / rock style of production and writing. Big Shoals emerges in the post-shift period.
Their music is very much in keeping with this era: a mixture of pop, country and folk into an ambiguous blurring of the lines between all styles. The listener is most likely to identify this group as more country than pop, but only on the basis of instrumentation including banjo, fiddle and upright bass.
All of the songs on this release were written by Lance Howell, the lead singer, and multi-instrumentalist of the group (guitars, keyboards, harmonic and organ). The songs are generally upbeat and well written with good harmonic structures and hooks.
Lyrically the songs are mostly character driven. They are about people who are well-meaning, but flawed, such as in ’12 Steps’, ‘The Kid’, and ‘You Know Better Now’. Or they are about people who find themselves in situations or circumstances they present them with a dilemma or a revelation about they nature of their life, such as on ‘Skipping Stones’ or ‘Devil O’ Devil’.
The thing about this release is that it is all very slick, tightly written, well recorded, mixed and mastered. So slick that, in a respect, the actual character of these songs gets lost in the over-production of the work. On older recordings from groups like Poco there was space for them to present some unique ideas both musically and lyrically. Sacrificing the unique and quirky seems to be one of the hallmarks of current popular music.
Overall this is a good, solid release. It’s highly listenable, and fans of country rock or roots rock will not be disappointed with this release. However, I think the slick production of the recording has de-personalized this music. You could line up 12 similar roots rock bands, and I would likely be unable to tell the majority of them apart. That’s where Big Shoals needs to go from here: finding the elements of their music that make them unique, and bring those out without losing the overall coherence of the group.