Bluegrass sort of meets rock and folk and produces anthemic tales of reckless living.
Makenzie Willox and Zak Thrall may have been brought together musically by a shared love of old-timey and bluegrass music, but once they’d added cellist and mandolin player Russick Smith and rock drummer Brett Throgmorton to their sound then only a frequently featured banjo really remained as a bluegrass flavouring. Shovelin Stone are more aligned with a modern indie-folk sound: each such band requires their own speciality to distinguish them from the pack, and for Shovelin Stone it’s partly that banjo and partly the hard worn vocals of Makenzie Willox that sprinkle grit over the songs that make up the band’s second album ‘Summer Honey‘. These are songs that it’s easy to like, dwelling as they do on those perennial favourites – sweet summer loving, drinking, bad behaviour, recklessly shooting down innocent men and bargaining with a deity for at least begrudging forgiveness. Dark topics when written down but Shovelin Stone attack them with a rock edge that blunts the shock – no-one would mistake many of these for autobiographical song writing, but they make for good four minute stories. That they conjure up images of an impressive live light show and drunken sing-alongs from the crowd are probably no coincidence.
‘Drunk When I Get There‘ is a stomping tale of going to one’s grave through an excess of, which hinges on a misapprehension: “I well I don’t know where Heaven lies but I don’t care / Cuz if the whiskey’s gonna kill me / At least I’ll be drunk when I get there.” Yeah….well, friend, don’t be so sure that the final destination in this scenario isn’t the other place. There’s perhaps an intimation of realising this on ‘Here’s to Jesus‘ which raucously tells off an ex-lover with the glorious chorus : “Here’s to Jesus for forgiving you / That’s not something that I plan to do, oh no / So thank Jesus for forgiving you / Here’s to hoping that he’ll forgive me.”
Shovelin Stone can do a love song as well though, as the delicate ‘Love Me Too‘ lays out all the things that Willox is willing to do to win the affections of the object of his helpless love. Love at first sight can go bad though as the jolly sounding rag of ‘No Good At Waiting‘ shows – the declaration that “Well I lost my breathe when I first laid eyes on you / Oh my heart fell right down to my shoes” becomes something else with the rather over-insistent “I ain’t never felt a love like this before / And I don’t want to live without it a second more / I’m no good / Well I’m no good at waiting.” Patience may be a virtue, but not for this fired up Romeo.
‘Summer Honey‘ is a fine listen, perhaps leaning towards the Americana to listen to whilst driving part of the genre, but we all need something in that category after all.
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Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan’s music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That’s not much to ask, is it?