Heard Lately #17: Massy Ferguson Uses Sincerity as a Weapon

Steven Ovadia
Sep 30, 2019 · 3 min read

Haiku of contrition:

Boomerangs return.
So do Massy Ferguson
Can’t escape country.

Artist: Massy Ferguson
Album: Great Divides
Release date: April 16, 2019

Cover of Massy Ferguson’s Great Divides album.
Cover of Massy Ferguson’s Great Divides album.

The deal. The geography of a band’s sound always fascinates me (I’ve written about it before). When you hear where a band is from, you expect them to sound a certain way. So I was very surprised to hear Seattle’s Massy Ferguson, which has a sincere, straight-forward country sound that doesn’t scream, or even whisper, Pacific northwest. The band’s deceptive locus is largely due to the earnestness of lead singer/bassist Ethan Anderson, but is aided by an unpretentious band that does a superb job of supporting their singer.

Massy Ferguson’s songs are sturdy. There’s a sensitivity and delicateness to them, as well as an honesty, but at the same time, the tracks don’t betray much vulnerability. There’s bravado and swagger, but it’s not mindless. Instead, it reads as stoic. Which makes sense. Massy Ferguson take their name from a farm equipment manufacturer; they’re probably going to keep things fairly close to the vest.

Even their slower songs have a certain amount of emotional reserve. “Saying You Were There” is piano driven, with light guitar touches. The song is about an affair, and even with an accusatory line like “Passengers on your left / You’ll be paying out your debt / For where you’ve been,” Anderson sounds much more resigned than upset or angry. Instead, Anderson’s lyrics almost infect the music, making it feel on his behalf, with the backing track growing louder and angrier, eventually becoming more rock than country.

“They Want That Sound” is more aggressive across the board, sounding like country rock. Anderson’s voice is upfront in the mix, singing with guitarist/backup singer Adam Monda while Fred Slater’s keyboards alternate between a new wave sound and a more traditional organ. It’s catchy and when the track wanders away from country into different styles, Anderson’s vocals always bring it back.

Straight talk. This is fairly straight-forward country. It often ventures into rock, but Anderson has a great country voice. I’m not sure he could really do a typical rock song, though. The band has an amazing ability to countrify anything they tackle. “Drop an Atom Bomb On Me” is a rock tune. It’s got plenty of guitar riffs and a river of organ, all moved along by Dave Goedde’s drums. The song rocks in lots of places, but Anderson and the band always manage to return it to country. It’s almost like a musical boomerang. No matter how far afield they try and go stylistically, they just as quickly find their way back.

The confession. This was in my email. I’m not sure what happened. I had it in my digital folder of stuff to review, but I’m not sure how it got there. I think I downloaded it, based upon what’s in the folder, but I don’t remember making the decision to download it. I’m trying not to worry too much about this particular blackout.

Closing arguments. I grew up listening to metal, so I’m fairly used to emotionally disconnected singers. The culture of metal, and a lot of rock, is that any sign of vulnerability is also a sign of weakness. Country often has a similar conceit, but what’s nice about Massy Ferguson is that they they give you a little something emotionally, instead of nothing and instead of everything. They take the middle path, which is something more bands should consider, because it gives you the best of both worlds. Massy Ferguson is country that rocks in just the right places.

The pile

Haiku on a piece of paper: Boomerangs return. So do Massy Ferguson Can’t escape country.
Haiku on a piece of paper: Boomerangs return. So do Massy Ferguson Can’t escape country.
(another digital download)

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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.

Heard Lately

Steven Ovadia

Written by

Hockey lover. Linux lover. Music lover. I write about the latter two.

Heard Lately

Rather than giving up on reviewing albums 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. I’m no hero. I just have a low guilt threshold.

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