This music is true Americana.
In a time when musical genres are being integrated, crossed-pollinated, and ultimately re-defined, this Backwoods is a prime example of what can be accomplished by a diverse team of fantastic musicians. They know how to pick their instruments to pieces. They also know how to write songs that have a distinct and deliberate correlation with both the history of our nation (mostly recently, but not limited therein) and the history of the music that has been made here, especially in Appalachia.
Co-produced by Mr. Keel with fellow Virginian Keller Williams and engineered and mastered in Virginia, Backwoods feels like a local record. The minimalistic packaging is green (both literally and figuratively) and still maintains a great sense of style that is most certainly woodsy in feel.
While there are many bluegrass-oriented tunes here (and I use this in the non-traditional sense), the tunes that really stand out are those that deviate most from the traditional vein and incorporate other musical elements like funk, folk, rock, or even emo.
Backwoods kicks off with a barnburner, “Faster Horses” (Tom T. Hall), that sets the stage for the band and increases expectations for the rest of the record.
Second track, “Diamond Break” (L. Keel/Chris Jones) is an emotionally powerful tribute to post-Katrina New Orleans with lines alluding to the subtle beauty to be found within the city (“like a shattered diamond got little streams of light/and the Crescent City starlight”), while simultaneously being musically driven by the fantastic banjo work of Jason Flourney. It’s a distinctly unique sound, and entirely welcome.
Likewise, “They” (L. Keel) is a captivating song that begs the question: Who can the kids today look up to? It incorporates references ranging from Jesus to Lincoln to Einstein. According to Keel, the answer lies in song and this one progresses from a soft sounding folky ballad to a deep voiced rage-fest (complete w/ sick breaks) by the end, clearly demonstrating the multi-faceted nature of this band.
The bottom line here is that Mr. Keel and his band have collaborated on a record that has something for everyone. It is extremely well produced. It integrates varying genres of American music flawlessly while also subtly commenting on our past, present and future state. Most importantly, it is truly an Americana record, through and through.
Backwoods is out now.