Originally from Birmingham, AL, Banditos is a group – more like a gang, actually – of six 20 somethings, nowadays operating out of Nashville, close to, and simultaneously very far away from, the gleaming towers and industry hustle of Lower Broad and Music Row.

With the rugged power of a flashy Super Chief locomotive, the Banditos’s self-titled debut album bodaciously appropriates elements of ’60s blues-fused acid rock, ZZ Top’s jangly boogie, garage punk scuzz a la Burger Records, the Drive-By Truckers’ yawp, the populist choogle of CCR, Slim Harpo’s hip shake baby groove, gut bucket Fat Possum hill country mojo and the Georgia Motherf**king Satellites. From backwoods bluegrass, to slinky nods to Muscle Shoals soul and unexpected bits of doo-wop sweetness, the Banditos recall many, but sound like no one but themselves.

The members of the band first met playing in various punk and rock ‘n’ roll projects around Birmingham at D.I.Y., all-ages venues. In 2010, singer/guitarist Corey Parsons and singer/banjo player Stephen Pierce began busking around town, and were soon asked to perform at their favorite local bar. Without a full band they invited friends Randy Wade (drums), Jeffrey Salter (guitar), and Mary Beth Richardson (vocals) to join them.

Salter and Wade studied together at music school learning classical/jazz techniques, while Richardson’s background was mostly singing in church choirs. After some apprehension from Richardson about taking the stage with an unrehearsed band, a last-minute trip to New Orleans with the group (which resulted in a stolen hotel Bible inscribed with the band’s lyrics) seemed to cure a case of the cold feet. The ensuing performance was raw and electric, and an ecstatic crowd response further cemented the members’ convictions to become a full band. The addition of bassist Danny Vines made the group complete.

The members soon moved into a house together in Birmingham and after repeated tours through Nashville decided to move the band there instead, where the music scene was bigger and more diverse. The sextet has since developed their unique and airtight sound, culminated through several years of enduring friendships and a roaddog touring schedule that has, at their count, numbered over 700 shows in the last three years.

Their selt-titled debut full-length album is layered with as much grime as it is with pinpoint songwriting and feverish technical savvy. Each song wafts new dynamics into a streamlined stylistic roots, punk and rock ‘n’ roll jet stream, the variations heard evidently through the vocal baton passing and wrenching harmonies of Parsons, Richardson, and Pierce. Each vocalist, as with each performer in the band, is given the spotlight during the course of the album’s 12 songs. And at its core, Banditos is a unified coalescence of six bright beams of light, a spiritual collaboration between friends with a singular musical vision.

Like ideas, the best songs are the simple ones. And like most simple ideas, they're usually far more complex upon further examination than they seem at first.

So many young songwriters start off looking for the most complex way possible to examine a simple truth. Perhaps to seem smarter, or more "mature". The better songwriters learn - hopefully before too much embarrassment - that the complex thought simply put is the key to a great song. Distilling that subtle truth down to its very essence and expressing it in a way that cuts through the bullshit and takes the listener by the heart into the depths of the intended emotion.

I caught the line on about my third listen, busy as I was doing things around the house while the new album played loud in the next room. I've known Hardy a while. His long running band Dead Confederate played some of their earliest shows opening for Drive-By Truckers several years ago. I always liked them but probably didn't delve deep enough into what they were doing to listen closely to the songs. That all changed when Hardy was about to release his debut solo album (2013's fantastic Audition Tapes) and I saw him play a couple of times around Athens. I was immediately blown away. Every time I'd see or hear him, I'd hear something new. Great songs keep getting better the more you listen to them.

Which leads us to the new one, Hardy & The Hardknocks: Drownin On A Mountaintop. If Hardy's solo debut was a high and lonesome mellow-roast with musical touchstones like Harvest-era Neil Young and driving down a windy back road alone, the new one blasts out of the garage like some high-octane muscle car full of friends, blasting Mott The Hoople on the way to the last-call dive bar. It has it's very own sound, but hits me in the same places as my favorite Replacements albums - stripped down and raw, yet sonically thrilling.

The music is propelled by The Hardknocks. Vaughan Lamb and Nick Sterchi are a rock solid rhythm section, pushing it forward while never over-playing or detracting. That rare thing known as A songwriter's rhythm section. Serious praise has to go to Hardy's long time pedal steel player. Matt "Pistol" Stoessel, a veteran of Athens GA's incredible music scene for many years. Pistol really shines in this band, providing both a melodic counter-point to Hardy's formidable melodies and serving as the glue that holds all the elements together. The album all manages to be stripped down and raw yet sonically thrilling.

All of which leads me back to where I started, the wonderful last song on the album where the beat drops down to a slow waltz and the pedal steel swirls and the leading man sings...

The Hallers

Based in the Mobile, AL area, The Hallers were founded in late 2012 by Lead vocalist/guitar player, Brendan Manceaux and drummer Brian Dunbar. The group went through a number of member permutations until late 2013 when lead guitarist C.J. Rowe was brought on, followed by Caleb Brown adding multiple instrumentations, and finalizing the group with bass guitarist Criss Grissm in 2014. Shortly after changing their moniker from Harry Haller and the Steppenwolves to The Hallers, they began work on their debut demo which is currently in the final stages of production and being followed by a studio quality EP that is planned for release mid to late 2015. The Hallers are primarily indie rock with a heavy alternative rock influence, featuring grinding guitar, driving bass, thunderous drums, and angelic keys - all tied together with heartfelt, howling vocals.

$10.00 - $12.00

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