Critics have been loudly buzzing this spring over the latest record from the one and only Sour Bridges, Neon Headed Fool, and I recently had the opportunity to give it an analysis for myself ahead of its official release date. In Neon Headed Fool, there’s a bit of the band’s signature take on modern bluegrass in “Do Ya,” “Scrapyard Boys” and “If You See Me,” as well as a handful of more experimental songs in “You Don’t Know,” “Boot Healer” and “Tarmac,” and while it’s not a total departure from the style that they exhibited in their self-titled album, it’s undisputedly the most developed and confident sound that we’ve heard from them since their debut.
Lush string arrangements are the bread and butter of “Scrapyard Boys,” “Ozona Breakdown,” “You Don’t Know” and “Boot Healer,” but these songs don’t sell us short on smart lyricism, either. There’s not a doubt in my mind that this band puts a lot of stock in the virtues of having an organic tonality, and they make that abundantly clear in powerhouses like the melancholic “Dusty Waters.” In an age where so many artists are sacrificing textured harmonies for heroic hooks, it’s nice to see a group that still takes the value of beefy basslines and sumptuous string grooves seriously.
On the lyrical front, “You Don’t Know,” “Nothing Between Us,” “If You See Me” and “Headin’ Out West” feel brutally honest and even a little confessional every now and again, but that’s not what makes their verses as appealing as they are. After giving it a lot of consideration, I think that it’s the consistently personal and intimate stylization of the narratives that makes these tracks so relatable, and not necessarily the cosmetic garnishes that we find in the music. Sour Bridges aren’t content with engaging us on a singular level here – they want to move us with every stitch of their sonic prowess.
There’s enough taken from both the bluegrass and country music models in Neon Headed Fool to satisfy fans of either scene, and I actually think that these songs contain a lot of elements that have been generally missing from the mainstream releases categorized under these genres lately. “Tarmac” and “Dusty Waters” have the bones of bluegrass ballads, but they’ve got a country twang in their finish that makes them an easy sell to audiophiles who have become discontent with the plasticity of the contemporary Nashville sound.
Sour Bridges absolutely hit it out of the park with this album, and based on the momentum that it’s been generating for the band, it’s not an overstatement to say that it could become the record to elevate their status from indie titans to full-blown stars. You don’t have to be the biggest fan of roots music to appreciate the quality of the compositions that comprise Neon Headed Fool, but for those of us who live for a stylish, unrepentantly progressive outing in Americana, it doesn’t get much better than this. To be frank, I think that these players have raised the bar for themselves and their scene here.