Drunken Hearts' Reckless Ways of Living
Words by J. Picard
A smoke filled sky greeted the Montana morning in West Yellowstone, as I brewed a cup of coffee and put on Reckless Ways of Living, the new album from the Colorado contingent Andrew McConathy and The Drunken Hearts. As we prepared to explore the country’s oldest national park, the album set the tone for the morning. With coffee and live rosin came reflection of the last decade and how its treated Andrew and his vision for the band. It’s taken a lot of work to navigate the saturated madness of the Front Range of the Rockies and Andrew has put in the time and struggle. Personnel has changed, what felt like a re-grouping took place, but the themes and stories are the same; love, life and the road.
The album was co-written and produced by Dave Pahanish, who has co-written songs and found literary success contributing to some of the biggest names in country music. For those used to the jam rock Hearts of the past, Reckless Ways of Living takes a left turn and dives deep into country music with one foot inside the dark psychedelic realm.
The album leads with love on the track “Never Say Goodbye,” co-written by Keith Mosely of The String Cheese Incident. The up front pedal steel from Neil Jones leans distinctly on the country style and adds a welcomed layer to the song’s underlying simplistic acoustic guitar. “Falling Stars” reflects the literary inspiration of author and beat, Jack Kerouac, as has the past works of McConathy. The subtlety of Tyler Adams’ output on the organ and piano adds a richness and fullness to the track. “The Bright” offers a glimpse into vocalist Andrew McConathy’s view of the road as life and death. James Dumm’s sound on electric guitar is saddled yet sweet, reflecting a patience with the material and understanding of its needs, while Kristin Pahanish’s background vocals add a wonderful depth to the song. “Good Graces” articulates a hope for leaving having done good in this time and space. Silas Herman’s mandolin playing soars over McConathy’s lyrical phrasing adding musical inflection to the perspective, while sweet piano, organ and mellotron intermingle in the background.
Now it is at this point of the album that the substantive material unfolds, and by substantive I mean having substance and by substance I mean substances. Stay with me…
“Popcornin’ Percocets” follows with a drug-fueled composition that reads like a classic whisky and cocaine anthem broadcast on the open range. The track sounds like it could have been written by Country Joe and the Fish or Blind Melon. The true highlight among the delightful tune comes in the form of Vince Herman’s irreverent kazoo playing which is cacophonous yet celestial and magnificent at the same time. “100 Proof,” sounds like something you’d hear through a tinny truck stop jukebox. Alex Johnson perfectly reads the room (which I assume is filled with tall hats and rhinestones) with simplistic yet tight strikes on the drums that drives the train. The track is rounded out with some beautiful mandolin from Silas and writing contributions from Vince that accentuate the Colorado country sound.
It was at this point that I glanced up from my laptop, took off my headphones and noticed that the smoke had cleared a bit and the birds were chirping in the morning dew of the grass adjacent to our simple yet sufficient cabin. I headed back into the cabin and topped off on coffee before diving back into the album with “Forever Highway,” which featured a delightful collection of players. The usual suspects plus the Hermans are joined by Michigan native, Lindsay Lou, and Kyle Tuttle of Georgia respectively. Andrew and Lindsay’s combined vocals sound natural and pure and the addition of Kyle’s somewhat contained yet explorative banjo playing make for a favorite from the first spin.
“Dark Times” is an introspective and poetic reflection of life and burying your friends. The sadness of the song is only broken by the masterful sound of Jason Carter of the Del McCoury Band’s fiddle which is short but sweet. The album turns towards its conclusion with “Fall From Grace” and McConathy wearing his lyrical heart on his sleeve. Dave contributes some interesting and bold percussion that compliments James’ perfect tonal layering. “Eventually” features an interesting vocal effect that separates the song from the rest. The composition feels like a dream coming to a close in the fleeting moment just prior to shifting from subconsciousness to consciousness.
Reckless Ways of Living is the natural progression in the career of a band and an artist chasing the stars across the vast landscape of America. One road leads to another and highways turn to smaller county roads which turn to dirt or vice versa depending on which direction you head. I am not sure how much the album moves the needle in the age of bright and flashy presentation, but I know that the road will go on for Andrew and his ever-evolving style of Colorado country and Americana. As I remove my headphones and prepare for a day in one of the most beautiful places in the country, I am left with this perspective from McConathy: “Everything that lives and dies becomes one...” www.thedrunkenhearts.com