Monday, October 31, 2011

Album Review: Have Gun Will Travel's Mergers & Acquisitions

Have Gun Will Travel - Mergers and Acquisitions (Suburban Home, 2011)

"'Have gun, will travel' reads the card of a man, a knight without armor in a savage land."

In addition to a western show about a gunslinger for hire, Have Gun Will Travel is also the name of a group of alt-folkers from Florida whose new album, Mergers and Acquisitions, comes out tomorrow on my favorite label, Suburban Home. Mergers is their first for SH, third overall.

I have to confess, despite being an alt-folk fan I never really paid much attention to HGWT.  I checked them out around the time their last album, Postcards from the Friendly City, came out, and it didn't really grab me. Mergers changed that, firmly putting HGWT on my radar of bands to watch. The album isn't even officially out yet (though people who pre-order can get an immediate digital version of the album) and already I can't wait to see where they take their music next.

With such a large amount of growth in the genre in recent years, it can be hard to be unique in alt-folk without being gimmicky. HGWT manage it, and despite not really sounding different from other alt-folk albums, Mergers doesn't really sound like any others either. There's a strong bluegrass vibe to all the songs, but none of them are really bluegrass. They don't go for straight bluegrass like their alt-folk contemporaries Old Man Markley, they don't even go for a punk-oriented bluegrass like Tin Horn Prayer. More like folk-rock. It's hard to really put into words what I mean, it's just as close to bluegrass as you can get while not being bluegrass at all. In fact, some songs are more like folk-pop, such as the Guster-esque opening track, "Dream No More."

It's hard to pick out actual influences in the band. For me, that's both a strength and a weakness. I like when I can pick out bits and know exactly where the band is coming from in writing it. But it also means that rather than ripping off other artists or trying to patch together a quilt of influences, the band instead blend their influences with their own style to create something that is completely theirs. The one exception to this is on "Song Of Seven Sisters," which sounds strongly like Bob Dylan back when he started playing with a full backing band. I believe this to be intentional, as the singer trades his usual alt-country twang vocal style with what sounds like a Dylan imitation. It's an interesting track that breaks up the flow of the album, but in a good way.

If you like Dylan or folky rock bands from the 60's and 70's (such as The Byrds), or if you like folk-pop bands like Guster, or if you like modern alt-folkers like Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry or alt-country bands like Two Cow Garage and Drag The River, I think there's a very strong chance you will like this album.

Favorite tracks: "Dream No More," "Freightliners," "Katharine, Don't Fall Off The Wagon," "Song Of Seven Sister"

1 comment:

  1. You have me interested in this album based on the bluegrass vibe. I'm not a particular fan of bluegrass, but what I've heard of, generally was good.