By Dave Resto
Roots Rock band The 40 Acre Mule will release their first album, Goodnight & Good Luck through State Fair Records on August 23rd. Raw, heartfelt and full of promise, it’s as solid a debut as this writer has heard in all my years of covering music.
Formed in Dallas in 2015, The 40 Acre Mule have worked hard to build their ever expanding fanbase. The band – J. Isaiah Evans (vocals/guitar), John Pedigo (guitar), Tim Cooper (bass/backing vocals), Robert Anderson (drums) and Chris Evetts (baritone saxophone/percussion) – has gone from gigging sparsely occupied bars to playing packed clubs and festivals in four short years. Their sound is on par with acts like Gary Clark Jr., Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and the Reverend Horton Heat (for whom they’ve opened). On Goodnight & Good Luck, the band blurs the lines between traditional Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly, Country and Soul, with sure-handed musicianship and strong story telling as their one-two punches.
The album opens with the slow, bluesy “You Better Run.” The halting, stomping intro allows the band to develop musical tension, which well fits the narrative of a broken-hearted man, single-mindedly stalking the woman who cheated on him. The muddy snare drum and the rumbling bass are augmented by Evetts’s deep baritone sax. Added to the mix are the chaotically ebbing and flowing keyboards played by Chad Stockslager, who plays elsewhere on the album. What finally tears through this dark veil is Pedigo’s bright sounding fret work during the guitar solo. The song is a respectable summary of this band’s vibe, but what awaits throughout the rest of the album is what will leave an impression.
“Something Next To Nothing” has a deliciously funky, syncopated strut, owing greatly to Cooper’s bass lines and Anderson’s drumming. Evans’s smooth, yet powerful voice exclaims, “And I know it was me; If you come on home, I know that you’re gonna see; I’ve been something next to nothing ever since the day you were gone!”
“I’ll Be Around” is a stunning piece of amped up Soul which sounds very much akin to Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Once again, Cooper gets things going but it’s the bongos and drums that drive the tempo. Evetts artfully phrases his sax parts to work like an undercurrent which supports the vocals.
“Be With Me,” with its delicate touches of glockenspiel, juxtaposed against a fiery guitar solo, and “Hat In Hand,” a waltz-time buzz ballad, slow the pace of the album but not the intensity.
There are no less than three scorched earth barnburners, where The 40 Acre Mule prove they can Rockabilly rave out as well as the Stray Cats, the Reverend Horton Heat or anyone else in the game. Like any good Rockabilly song, each one has a story to tell.
“16 Days” is about a man who is cooling his heels behind bars because his woman left him, and he didn’t handle it well. It features some spectacularly frenetic guitar and sax, driven by hammering drums.
“Bathroom Walls” is a bawdy tale of days gone by, when public facilities doubled as phone directories. The rhythm section keeps it spare, while achieving the proper punch. The authentically retro-sounding baritone sax licks fatten up the sound, while the guitar struts about unrestrained and Evans screams to the rafters.
The album closes with “Josephine,” which has the same chug-along feel as Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” but tells a different story. It’s about a guy who loves his girl, but he just keeps messing things up. “Oh, Josephine; Please don’t go away; If you come back, baby; I’m gonna treat you right every day,” goes the chorus.
The 40 Acre Mule hit on all cylinders on Goodnight & Good Luck. You’ll want to savor every thoughtful lyric, note and beat. …and you’ll want to hear a lot more from this band soon.
For more information on Goodnight & Good Luck by The 40 Acre Mule: