Artist: The South Austin Moonlighters
Album: Travel Light
Release date: May 17, 2019
The deal. Growing up in the heavy metal haven that was (and might still be) suburban Queens, when you asked people what they listened to, they’d inevitably say one of two things:
- ‘Slayer you poser. What else is there?’ And then they’d punch you in your shoulder. Or crotch. Usually crotch.
- ‘I like everything…’ Then there would be a pause. ‘Except country.’
As a child/teen/young adult, my only exposure to country was occasional snippets of it on TV and in movies. You didn’t hear it on the radio and I didn’t know anyone who even knew anyone who was a fan. So while I’ve learned to appreciate, and even enjoy, country music, it’s not an easy genre for me. There’s a subtlety to it for which I’m just not naturally wired. And that’s what I enjoyed so much about The South Austin Moonlighters’ Travel Light: it’s country that’s not subtle.
The South Austin Moonlighters play country music with the energy of a rock band. The guitars are in your face, with the vocals not too far behind. But the guitar tones are clean and the rhythms are straight out of Nashville. It’s power country. The Moonlighters bill themselves as a super group, made up of established singer/songwriters (Lonnie Trevino on bass/vocals, Chris Beall on guitar/vocals, Phil Hurley on guitar/vocals, along with new drummer Daniel James) who are collaborating together in a band, and one of the cool parts to that set-up is that they share vocal duties and cover a lot of their own solo songs.
Hurley has a voice not unlike Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. It’s a sweet one. On “Girl from Texas,” which appeared on Hurley’s 2018 Nowhere Left to Run, the band runs through the song, an electric guitar and Hurley’s vocals beginning the tune, with background vocals and drums eventually filling things out. The song has a country edge, but feels accessible to rock fans. “Dug Down Deep,” a Beall composition, has an open sky, western loneliness in the vocals, but also in the slide guitar that paves the track. The chorus has a real joy, though, giving the track an emotional complexity.
The band members have a similar musical sensibility, so the songs and performances are cohesive. You’re not necessarily jolted when they shift singers and songwriters, which is a good thing for a band album. The three vocalists also harmonize nicely, too. The first time I heard “Daylight Again/Find The Cost Of Freedom,” I thought the Moonlighters sounded just like Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I did some research and learned it’s a Crosby, Stills, and Nash cover.
Straight talk. This is a solid album. I’d be curious to hear the band if they decided to go a little more straight country, with fiddles and rampant pedal steel, but I appreciate that’s not their vision for the album. Its country-infused but not exclusively country.
The confession. This was emailed me back in April and it took me a while to find it. I’m disappointed because I really enjoyed it and it’s a little outside of my comfort zone, so it could have been fun finding it a home.
Closing arguments. One of the things I most enjoyed about Travel Light is that it toggles between genres so fluidly, but also so naturally. Obviously, there’s a heavy country influence, but there are lots of rock guitars and folk harmonies. And it all fits together like that Amish furniture that doesn’t use screws or nails. “Feels Like Home,” the album’s kick-off track is a pure country rock riff that also sounds a lot like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” There’s nothing weird or jarring about the move, though. It just sounds good. As does all of Travel Light.
So much amazing music comes out all of the time. I review what I can as quickly as I can, working my physical and digital piles as efficiently as possible, but things fall between the cracks. Rather than giving up on things that are a little past their prime, contemporary-review-standards-wise, I’m going back for the overflow that deserves to be heard — even if it’s a little late.