The Righteous Hillbillies – Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway
There’s nothing new under the sun, but old Ecclesiastes never heard The Righteous Hillbillies. Somehow, someway, these Illinois based blues rockers manage to pick up an increasingly moribund music genre and revitalize its aging bones with vim and vigor quite unlike anyone else working in that area today. Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway, the fourth album from the five piece, explores the band’s strengths without ever sounding repetitive and manages to expand on their formula without ever venturing too far afield of their core sound. This delicate balancing act is the sort of thing only a top notch outfit can pull off and Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway finds this act at, or near, the peak of their powers. Rather than falling into the trap of covering blues standards, The Righteous Hillbillies serve up ten original tracks certainly intent on capturing a genuine bluesy spirit, but their personal signature is equally unmistakable.
A quick indication of their personal signature comes with the wide-eyed, free breathing movement of the opener “Rollin’”. This is a buoyant way to kick off the album and a bit of an unpredictability twist. For those listeners expecting a blues rock band to lay down thick swaths of overdriven weepy guitars, The Righteous Hillbillies answer with some much more light on its feet and capable of getting listeners to immediately take notice. They do move into more familiar territory with the album’s second track “Throwing Stones” and lead guitarist Nick Normando, a force throughout this collection, stands out particularly strong here with his scintillating and often melodic guitar work. The title track pushes the band further out on this release than any other single track and quite successfully. “Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway” mingles acoustic guitar, dramatic bursts of lead work, and great lyrics into a musical concoction that stands out from the band’s already fine discography. Brent James’ vocal is especially effective.
“Down to Memphis” is a slow-burning blues that shares some similarities with the opener, insofar as The Righteous Hillbillies give the music room to breathe rather than attempting to overwhelm their audience with one bluesy passage after another. It has the sort of down home, late night gravity the audience will associate with blues without risking any self-indulgence. The heavy, if not outright ominous, handed piano opening “Call Me a Doctor” sets up the song as exactly the sort of leering, half-woozy blues growl the album deserves this far in and the vocal responds in kind to the music with the same whiskey soaked anguish. “Drama Zone” is a thoroughly modern lyric given a strong blues treatment with Barret Harvey’s drums leading the way. Two Wheels Down a Lost Highway closes with the low-key, soulful acoustic blues of “Rock Salt & Nails”. It’s an excellent closing for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that it gives Brent James’ lyrics and vocals an unique chance to shine and they will leave an impact on listeners. This is a fantastic fourth album from a band that seems to continue improving with each new release.
8 out of 10 stars