Album Review | The Drunken Hearts' Wheels of the City
Words by Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot Photography)
Many things come to mind when I consciously make the decision to listen to The Drunken Hearts; mostly good times had by all my friends dancing to their very intentional and melodic version of “Americana folk-rock”. YarmonyGrass Music Festival (maybe five or so years ago) was the first time I saw them live, and this band has truly evolved into a tighter, more focused, and ultimately much better/more entertaining band than they were back then. Led by the haunting vocals of Andrew McConathy, The Drunken Hearts have turned into one of Colorado’s musical stalwarts and seem to be hitting their stride with their new release Wheels of the City (available now). Produced by legendary Railroad Earth musician Tim Carbone this album is a testament to what the Drunken Hearts do musically, blending fierce musical talent/string playing with some very real and meaningful lyrical choices.
Led by McConathy’s vocals, Wheels of the City shows us the next musical phase in the evolution of the Drunken Hearts. “Shining Eyes” is a foot-stomping, good ole Americana throwdown with the bass lines of Jon McCartan coming in with full force. “Alive ‘N Free” brings forward the influence of Tim Carbone, as this reminds me of many Railroad Earth songs I have heard in the past. Cody Russell brings his lap-steel guitar into the foray on this tune, giving us some beautiful licks that flow right into the slowed-down song tempo. “In the Middle” has recent band addition, guitarist Kory Montgomery plucking/finger-picking his way through this very powerfully vocalized ode to rivers far and wide. I believe the addition of Montgomery has energized the band in an incredible way and I am becoming a bigger fan of his each and every time I see him play. “Passchendaele” is a song fit for a full orchestra, with producer Tim Carbone’s incredible violin playing shining through with McConathy accompanied by numerous backing singers. I did not expect these kinds of songs to come out of the Drunken Hearts repertoire.
“Two Hearts (On a Limb)” twists and turns us listeners down a path of multiple musical genres combining the country music commonly heard “One-two” drumbeat of Alex Johnson with some amazing back and forth play from Montgomery and Russell on lap-steel. “Wheels of the City,” the title track of this new release focuses on the vocal prowess of McConathy talking about the importance of family and building bridges between those who are divided among us. Joining the Hearts on this song is a small, but mighty horn section that really fills this number with a “full band” sound.
Last, but definitely not least “The Cave” is a fascinating way to end this album as a quick spoken-word beginning gives way to some more electric-focused jamming from the Hearts. Russell and his lap-steel once again are prominently featured, with drummer Alex Johnson providing some awesome tempo/coordinated beats behind it.
All in all, I am very impressed with this latest release from The Drunken Hearts even if the country-twangness of the album is not in my usual musical forte. Thinking back to some of their first performances I witnessed at YarmonyGrass, and many others around our great state of Colorado I can truly say I have become a real fan of the Hearts and the direction Andrew McConathy is leading them. They are musically tighter than they were before, have decided to work with some of the leading musical minds available, and are really taking a swing at the idea of “making it” in the ever-growing music business. If there is a band to root for in Colorado to succeed, it is these guys. They absolutely care about their fans, throw some fantastically epic parties (Yarmony is amazing if you have not been already), and have made some awesome band personnel decisions. Adding Montgomery on guitar has added a whole other level of musicianship to the group.
Go see The Drunken Hearts live whenever you can, buy and support this newest release, and of course do yourself a favor and try to get to Rancho Del Rio for Yarmony Music Festival if you can. I promise, these guys are not even close to completing their musical journey and I am extremely excited to watch it unfold firsthand.