Just think about alt-country and good ol’ root music. Staunch, country-fare American sounds pouring out of your loudspeakers. Lost down in Tennessee, boozed up by too much moonshine, but still good enough to enjoy on a hot summer evening. Then again punkish lo-fi pseudo rock’n’roll aesthetics served on a Southern Comfort laced platter of a full Southern Breakfast.
And clearly sometimes the lines between some sort of desert-tinged rock, punk and real country are blurred and there’s trouble really getting a grip on the genre. Especially if we get disconnected country boys or established chansonniers calling in to state that they are now part of the movement. In truth, many people have trouble wrapping their heads around the genre, yours truly included. Yet, the music is fascinating and I daresay multifaceted. So, this is the credo of Kings of Moonshine their newest dish Iron River. And behold, ’tis no Nashville based band, no sir, they hail from Finland of all places.
And do they live up to their label stickin’ to them? Well, at times I was a bit lost looking for the country on this record. This felt a bit similar to Taylor Swift, whose fans and critics often described her style as country, when she was nothing but. Now she’s gone full-tilt pop, so the country is out the door anyway these days.
The country part of Iron River indeed manifests itself somewhat scarcely throughout the record. You need to wait until Lay Down My Heart to get a real taste. Not quite Steve Earle, but rather erring towards the California feel-good rock Train indulged in on their last endeavour – as wrecked as this one may be in certain parts.
And you will get some more – banjos and all – in the laid-back Foolish of Them All. In truth, the country elements will start to underlay tracks a bit more prominently starting with the 2nd half of the record. And it does provide some background throughout the track list.
Now the real kick out of Iron River comes with the ’70s flavored prog on some of the tracks. This includes some psychedelics, which I found a tad wild for such a record. Fuzz loaded solos intersperse some of the tracks and that adds another portion of spice. Do I detect some country-laced Pink Floyd in places? Sure do. Some of that even reaches back to stuff we heard from the Beatles. Now talk about retro. And luckily for this metal heart, the hinted poppy moments on Iron River remain bearable.
Creating some of that scratchy, back-country style will not work without a pretty sturdy savoir-faire of the band itself. And these guys for sure know how to run a tune. There is not a lot to bitch and moan about on mixing and mastering too. If anything, the record loses some of its freshness and liveliness as they move beyond Foolish of Them All. Yet, the last two tracks kind of bring some of the steam back. Don’t go to Town – the story of Holly with a listening disorder – sounds like something that I need to consume on a hot night with a icy beer in my hands. One of the best tracks on this dish by the way. Then the last in line Until Everything is Gone shines with a female contribution that sounds like it just got beamed to Finland from moonshine country.
So, what’s the sum of all these moving parts? Iron River captures the moonshine-laden style of yonder Southern country boys pretty well. Even if they somehow lack the hard-nosed, edgy tough-guy stance many of the US based bands display. Yet, this is not a bad thing in itself. Their penchant towards a lighter brand of rock covers a score of influences, starting with progressive waves from the ’70s or earlier over psychedelic elements to Southern Rock influences. All this presents itself against the background of traditional country sounds that renders all tracks interesting and never boring.
And this is the proverbial proof of the pudding: Kings of Moonshine managed to create a juicy dish of lightly roasted rock, spiced with a score of unusual ingredients and seasoned with good ol’ country flavor. All this done within the constraints of a genre with a limited choice of song structures. And by doing so they avoided to descend into the sometimes cloudy entrails of out-of-control progressive or – Loki forbid – alternative hell. A feat well done.