With the sort of sly charisma that could make almost anyone into a bluegrass fan instantly, a honeysweet drawl defines the harmony behind the magic in “Don’t Take It Too Bad” only seconds after pressing the play button on this prime cut from Rock Hearts’ debut album Starry Southern Nights. Similarly to the swiftly-executed “Stagger Lee,” “Don’t Take It Too Bad” is a hybrid of Americana and bluegrass that doesn’t pull any instrumental punches and puts all of us in the mood for the big, bold swing of a truly red, white and blue performance.
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There are no stylistic limitations for Rock Hearts in this virgin outing together; they cover the Osborne Brothers’ “Don’t Let Smokey Mountain Smoke Get in Your Eyes” with the same kind of moxie they bring to the fierce “Whispering Waters,” an original song, with influences from folk, country and centrist roots music seeping their way to the surface whenever it suits the material best. If you came looking for some puritanical pastoral jam sessions in Starry Southern Nights, you’d better keep on moving – between the players in this band and their producer, the one and only Mr. Ned Luberecki, this LP is actually one that I would go so far as to give an alternative labeling (mostly because of the differences between its chills-factor and that of any mainstream releases out at the moment).
In the song “99 Year Blues,” this group takes a shot at rock n’ roll and gives us an updated version of Hot Tuna’s 1972 single, and although it’s missing electric guitars and pummeling percussive beats, it still feels like a bit of a stadium-shaker even at more moderate volumes. There’s something really sexy about the way they work the arrangement into a countrified swing seemingly with an improvised wit in this performance, and the same could actually be said for the instrumental “Juxtaposed” as well. They’re not intimidated by any challenges put in front of them in Starry Southern Nights; instead of running from potential aesthetical quandaries like the rhythmic contrast in “Wake up and Smell the Coffee,” they push strings to the front of the mix and give us as melodic (and as weighty) a tune as they can muster to compensate for the overwhelmingly pressurized grooves.
Aside from the music video for “Don’t Let Smokey Mountain Smoke Get in Your Eyes,” Rock Hearts are dropping an additional visual component to Starry Southern Nights in a video for the record’s title track, and while I haven’t seen it just yet, my gut tells me that I’m going to like what it consists of if it’s at all in the same vein as the other content presented to us here. There are a litany of different directions that any band can go in when broaching a project as important as making a rookie album is, but if you ask me, Rock Hearts set one heck of a fine standard for their peers with the release of this first studio LP. I’m impressed, and they’ll definitely be on my radar in the future.
by Bethany Page