By Doug ColletteJune 20, 2012
The fourth studio recording by Burlington VT’s Waylon Speed is a logical extension of their previous projects. Within roughly two years, the quartet has released their eponymous debut CD, a deliberately schizophrenic double album (Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
), then a four-cut EP (Boots
), all of which have primed the pump for Valance
The distillation is obvious from the outset in "Beef Jerky and Beer," where the guitars twang before the pedal steel played by Brett Lanier wends its way into the mix around the long drawl in the voices of guitarist Kelly Ravin and bassist Noah Crowther. "Livin'" continues in a somewhat similar vein except the emphasis is on electric guitars that rise and fall in slow motion only to speed up following Rev. Chitwood (Chad) Hammaker's pointed solo. As the pace quickens, Waylon Speed effectively unites the country and metal elements left separate on previous projects.
Fiddler Joe Cleary appears on “Then Again,” joining with Lanier in a fast-paced reel that morphs into a shuffle and back again. A debt to British rock rises to the surface in "Cherry Plane" where Ravin and Hammaker's instruments intertwine similar to the way the dual guitars of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash would often decorate their performances. The Burlington's band's restraint is laudable no matter the style they adopt, so the very next cut, "Gotta Get Out," with its warbling harmonica mimicking the snappy rhythm and lead guitar, sounds like it derives naturally from its English antecedents: after all, those groups reintroduced America to its own musical roots in the blues back in the 60's.
The dense clear sound of the mix and mastering of tracks recorded at The Barn in Vermont in the autumn of 2011 highlight careful arrangements like that of the Chuck Berry-derived "Killin' Time." There's no loss of immediacy from the original tracking as the lively accessible likes of such snappy tunes turns them into stories shared among friends rather than mindless exercises in style. Lyrics like those of "I Heard The Shot" contain vivid images mirrored in Hammaker's lead, which burns its way from start to finish.
The sequencing of the tunes on Valance lends depth to the album as well. "Silver and Gold" finds Ravin and Crowther alternating lead vocals as well as sharing harmonies on the refrain, while the reappearance of Cleary's fiddle injects an ominous air: this performance creates the palpable sensation of the album heading down its homestretch. The declarative tone of "Smoke" continues in that vein too, suggesting that, while the latest Waylon Speed may not be a concept album per se, it nevertheless provides a well-defined picture of a band seeing itself and the world around them ever more clearly with each record they release.