Exclusive Free Download, Interview, & Album Review
By John Mikeska
The title of The Vegabonds’ latest album, What We’re Made Of, is as symbolic as it is literal. At once, a statement about the band in-and-of-itself while also managing to capture the journey of the enthusiast as they get to know the band.
Their latest album opens up with acoustic stylings that suggest an impending narrative on the first track “Oh My Lord”. The subsequent electric instrumentation and vocal/lyrical contributions read like a soulful premonition towards new territory that culminates with a deeper understanding of one’s self. The inspirational connections to the American South are undeniable, and serve as an appropriate palate to paint the portrait of What We’re Made Of.
When asked about the resonance of Southern culture, and specifically, how it pervades the music of The Vegabonds lead singer/rhythm guitarist Daniel “Danny” Allen, commented that of all the principles found in the culture, “it mainly comes down to respect. I believe that comes through in our music and I don’t think I could separate the two.”
Throughout the course of the album, the lyrics take you on a journey through the trials & tribulations of life without ever sacrificing the tonal qualities of redemption. Taking a page right out of the contemporary novel of our lives, the line from the first track; “things don’t excite me like they used.. money drugs and rock n’ roll, ain’t all that they’re cracked up to” speaks directly to the transitional heart with a familiar voice.
After another solemn lyric, “I think I’m growing cold, things don’t heat me up quite like they used to” the vocal melody plays against a delightful boogie-woogie piano riff that suggests a smile and sees you through the next verse. Back to the refrain (this time with a little more sumpn’ sumpn’ behind it) “Tell me where did my friends go, they stopped singin’ songs and now they’re miserable”, closing the line with an evocative mantra, “and I don’t wanna be miserable”, that quite possibly takes on a larger meaning other than the one contained within the verse.
A tasteful hold of an organ chord closes the song with an emotional sensibility that suggests an impending song-change.
Aside from the opening track, “Blood to Roam” seems to be a band favorite. A selection that exemplifies the New South Rock sound, the introductory guitar riff snatches your attention before the churning drum line builds tension for this straight ahead rock number. A derisive journey ultimately lands on the self-affirming conclusion that “it’s in my blood for me to roam” before exploding into the ether with a blissful jam that rages through Leslie drenched vocals, courtesy of driving bass and searing organ lines. The guitar-solo tears through the mix into the heavens on account of a creative sonic arrangement, featuring a dual Mesa/Orange amplification set-up.
The dexterity with which the band navigates in and out of musical and allegedly improvised sections suggests a unique brand of artistic connectivity that can’t be taught.
“Cruise On” marks the descent to the raw depths of swampy blues that appeal to my personal sensibilities. A travelin’ tune that features a gritty guitar riff and a ferocious organ/bass/drum combo before Danny’s vocals take you by the collar for a memorable cruise on. For the slide-guitar parts, guitarist Richard Forehand, forged a beast from the bowels of Hell to do his six-string bidding. Actually, it’s a pawn shop special, crafted in a garage with some good old fashioned elbow grease and a healthy serving of Southern-ingenuity.
“Take a Ride” is a song that passionately portrays the most redeeming aspects of growing up in the South. Lead vocalist/lyricist, Danny Allen achieves a nostalgic, almost longing vocal quality that succeeds in making you feel happy about being sad when played against the musical arrangement.
They manage to extract profound imagery from the simple pleasures in life. Much in the same vein that contemporary Nashville attempts to achieve, but so often fails miserably for the apparent temptation of cheap & recycled material. They talk about a conversation with a good ole’ friend and hitting the road being forms of healing and the example of a grandfather being the “definition of a man”. These are concepts that speak to any self-respecting Southerner. They straighten my back and make me nod in agreement, as if I’m looking my grandfather square in the eye and saying “yessir”.
A soulful serenade that inspires feelings of longing and hope, continuing with the motif of the album. In Paul’s words, “we put our hearts in it to create a certain vibe.. At the end of the day we want the people who listen to our music and come to our shows to feel something.”
“Hammer” is my personal favorite off the album. Just the right amount of filth for a hard-driving, soul-stirring number that brings you to the edge of your seat. A fat mid-range solo from Richard’s workhorse, an 82’ Les Paul custom precedes the most compelling instrumental section on the album. Richard’s guitar parts and Beau’s arrangements flow together seamlessly for a psych-rock journey that features melodically dissonant electric-piano among distorted chordal accompaniment. An impressively righteous organ solo brings us out of the madness and back to a painfully precise chorus from Danny.
For this project, Live Music Daily had the opportunity to interview each band member over the course of several hours of conversation. Eventually, a feeling of deep seated connection and reverence among the band members began to show itself. It became obvious that each member plays more-or-less an undefined role that’s significant to the whole in a unique way.
What We’re Made Of plays quite literally like a testament to the enduring fiber that runs through the band. As if to define the adage that “the whole is far greater than the sum of it’s parts”, no single element or member defines the band more than any other. Rather, something happens when these guys come together that goes beyond any traditional sense.
It would be shortsighted to suggest that the road-tested demeanor of The Vegabond’s isn’t one they’ve fought hard for. The difficulties they faced on and off the road carved out who they are today and ultimately defined What We’re Made Of as a seminal work in their catalogue.
Having been on the road since 2009, the band reached a turning point in 2014 when one of the founding members left before they were set to embark on a six-week long American tour. They used this as an opportunity to find their sound and solidify the current lineup with the edition of wünderkind, Beau Cooper, as the chairman of the boards. An immense talent with a classically trained background, Beau truly shines on the album with his organ work, compositional sensibilities and ethereal soundscapes throughout the instrumental parts.
Founding member and bassist, Paul Bruens commented that Beau’s “values and talent made him an obvious choice” on the keys. Paul went on to describe him as a true “southern gentlemen”. You get the feeling that this honorific title could be applied to any member of this group, as they clearly value one another equally as human beings and musicians. An infectious rarity that begs many questions about the foundations of a band and how that contributes to their artistic expressions. The Vegabond’s feel like a band you can give your heart to, and they’ll give it right back with a healthy return on your investment.
Drummer, Bryan Harris, is a good-ole’-boy in every sense of the expression. He’s the type of brother that makes you feel good just by talking to him. A self-proclaimed “pocket drummer”, Bryan cites tasteful roots rockers like Levoln Helm, and Ringo as influences. Not surprisingly, given the ferocity that drives through the meat of the instrumental sections, Led Zeppelin’s original force bringer/god-of-the-thunderous groove, John Bonham, makes the cut as an influence for The Vegabonds’ drummer.
After settling on the current lineup and a reinvigorating Kickstarter campaign, they went to the lab to record What We’re Made Of.
The album came to life under the well-trained tutelage of two-time Grammy nominated producer and engineer, Tom Tapley (Elton John, Bruce Springsteen), whose influence can’t be overstated. Before the music & lyrics have a chance to work their way into you, the first impression of What We’re Made Of is the high-level of production. Tapley clearly takes pride in his work. Without fail, every member of the band sings his praises and acknowledges his contributions. The organic process of their compositional process lends itself to the direction of a master engineer. His ability to press musicians to their best while knowing when to lighten the mood, is perhaps one of the hallmarks of his approach.
Simply stated, the finished product is the greatest single work in The Vegabonds’ career. Bassist, and de-facto heartbeat of the band, Paul Bruens added that “collectively, we do our best work with our backs against the wall.” I find this to be one of the more redeeming aspects of their music — mixed in with all the emotional depth is a message of perseverance.
During the course of the album, and at times contained within a singular track, The Vegabonds manage to grab your attention, cut you up inside and make you whole again with a soulful embrace that’s celebratory and gripping, complete with all the stylings of Southern Americana.
If you’re a firm believer that “real-country music” shouldn’t be a term we have to use today, than do yourself a favor and catch The Vegabonds on one of their upcoming tour dates:
Feb. 19- Workplay – Birmingham, AL – Feat. The Delta Saints
Feb. 20 – Humphrey’s – Huntsville, AL – Feat. Five O’Clock Charlie
Feb. 23 – Acme Seed & Feed – Nashville, TN – Feat. Craig Waters & The Flood
Feb. 27 – Breakers Live – Columbia, SC
March 3 – Athens GA – Nowhere Bar
March 13 – Gulf Shores, AL (The Hangout)
March 14 – Perdido Key, FL (Florabama)
March 15 – Perdido Key, FL (Florabama)
March 17-20 – Pensacola, FL (Four nights at the beach, checkout our website!)
March 24 – Charleston, SC (Charleston Pour House)
March 25 – Statesboro, GA (Dingus McGees)
March 26 – Savannah, GA (Barrel House South)
March 29 – Wilmington, NC (Calico Room)
March 31 – Washington, DC (Gypsy Sally’s)