A few months ago a wonderful folk country band called The Rhinetones asked us to give their music a listen. After giving the album a quick spin, I found myself drawn to a certain element to their approach. It was honest, sincere, and very real. It was not over produced but also not some kind of low-tech garage band recording. It was a welcome sound with good vocals, pleasant melodies, and an overall enjoyable sound.
The title track “Over the Hills” was what originally pricked my ears up to this band and the song is consistently refreshing. The beat, the twang, and the lyrics all come together for a sort of new(er) country flavor. It’s definitely far from commercial country, but more progressive than some of the other tracks on the album. Sounding a bit more like the country bands of the 1970s, a la Alabama, and less like the pop country acts of today. In any event the song has a moral component about living life to the best of your ability. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s an intriguing start.
“Heavy Hands” has a bizarre sonic structure to it, purposefully so. The main melody keeps a limited range while a violin creates and eerie vibe. Later in the track backing vocals help to fill the chord. But the strings are still often discordant throughout the track. The unsettling song forces listeners to engage with the awkward emotion of the song; it’s not meant to be a comfy harmonic song. The chorus “no more storm clouds” eventually resolves the discord, driving home the point, well, of harmony. “Don’t let me go,” the repetitive refrain shows a real desire to make things work. It’s evident in the music as well as the lyrics. Nice.
The far more melodic “Wish Me Luck” is the kind of song you might expect from a folk country band. It’s sweet, with a guitar-driven melody and solid vocal lead. “If I could see those eyes shining back at me… If I could see that smile giving me everything I need…” sung with brilliant harmonies and a nice, classic lyric. Although I can’t speak for everyone, I could really go for a full album of THIS.
“Lost and Found” has a hobo’s wandering spirit wrapped around love song lyrics. Some of the best songwriting on a good album, the song captures a real classic country feel. From the steel guitar to the crack in the lead singer’s voice, it’s a great track. The plodding rhythm reminds listeners of something out of Hank Sr.’s catalog. “You… you hadn’t let me in… now I can begin… been in the dark til you came around. Oh I been lost… and found.” Like I said, some great songwriting here. It’s one of the best on the album.
“Hey Old Man” has some attitude evident from the first guitar riffs on the track. The lyrics, “hey Mr. Hangman why don’t you drop me a rope? ‘Cuz I done wrong and its time to go.” The song continues, “hey old man, what have you done?” The philosopher in me wants to speculate that this is some kind of existential exploration. But it might just be a song about someone at the end of life, acknowledging the reality of death. Either way, the nice full country band sound makes the song’s cut time swing really work.
All told, the album is one worth the time of country music fans. Unfortunately this is the kind of band that won’t make it into the Nashville mainstream although their songwriting far supercedes a lot of the popular country music available. “Lost and Found” and “Wish Me Luck” are particularly good tracks that deserve a listen from fans of classic country music. I’ll keep my ears open for more from The Rhinetones.