The Harmed Brothers - Better Days (Fluff and Gravy Records)
Of late it’s seemed that what we came to love as Cosmic American Music has lost much of its lustre - the initial thrill of hearing country folk and blues fired up by young pretenders full of punk spirit having given way to predictable and derivative fusions of all-too familiar phrases.
It’s to their credit therefore that The Harmed Brothers, without any pretence at re-inventing the wheel, are breathing much-needed new life into its flagging form. It helps that founder members Ray Vietta and Alex Salcido have such first rate roots-rock voices: gritty and grounded with the occasional affecting warble, which work especially well in harmony (see ‘Sky Cracked a Smile’ and ’Carolina’). As mid-paced acoustic goes, their songs are relentlessly driven, an extravagant emphasis on lead banjo as much as guitar helping to encase a defiantly rock and roll soul within a deeply traditional body.
Personal and plaintive themes are handled sensitively rather than mawkishly (‘Never Went Away’, ‘Better Days’), and the overall succeeds in being simultaneously evocative, romantic and undeniably exciting. It works so well on occasion that their best compositions and vocal performances combine to summon the spirit of The Band (‘Under the Axe’ for example), although for closer reference points it might be more pertinent to look to Uncle Tupelo’s ‘March 16-20 1992’ and the Jayhawks’ ‘Tomorrow the Green Grass’.