I’ve been resisting the Men of Action. The album has been gathering dust on my desk ever since I got a pre-pre-pre-release copy of it. You see, these boys are friends of mine. I like them, they are good guys and I respect them as musicians. I’ve seen them do some good rock n’ roll. I have confidence in their ability as songwriters. And yet, some part of me was worried that this album would suck. And then where would I be? If it sucked I couldn’t tell them and I’d have to go around making excuses to why I’d never reviewed it. Imagine my relief when I finally played Country for Groovers and discovered that it is awesomeness made manifest! Hurrah!
Country for Groovers is evolved country music. It sounds like perfect, clean, straight-up country made by boys who love rock n’ roll. The edge is traditional, undiluted country just this side of pop (real pop, not this Nashville pop stuff). Clearly influenced by good time boys from Dwight Yoakum to Doug Sahm to Willie, Waylon, Merle, Johnny and the rest of the apostles. The toe-tappin’, whiskey burn is temptingly diluted with a very 60s rock n’ roll jam, California beach pop, the Byrds, the Everly Brothers and steel guitar that runs closer to Hawaii than it does to Nashville.
Men of Action is a project of db Harris joined by Bryan Hartley and host of incredible musicians: Rich Gilbert (guitar), Mark Miller (bass), Pete Finney (pedal steel), Eamon McLoughlin (fiddle) and Jen Gunderman (accordion). Harris and Hartley are from Austin and Memphis respectively and you can hear the country influences from both regions in their music. Their harmonies are perfect. Harris carries a more laid back Texas/California groove while Hartley’s voice has a bluesy undertone of heartbreak in everything he sings.
The entire album is a tidy collection of the wide range of heartbreak, covering love lost, spurned lovers, love longed for and love that will never be. There isn’t a bad song in the bunch, though the first three tracks, written collaboratively by Harris and Hartley are exceptional, and really ideal embodiments of the kind of musical fusion the Men of Action are capable of.
You know how sometimes you put on a new album and it’s good, but it takes a few listenings for you to realize the brilliance of the album as a whole? This is not that album. From the very first song it’ll grab you and pull you in. “One Time Offer” kicks the whole thing off with a completely danceable early rock n’ roll riff, until the voices and the steel guitar kick in and make sure you understand that this is the real deal. The lyrics are simple, tight and beautifully suited to the musical stylings of these men (of action!).
Harris’s “If I Were a Cheater” and “Just in Case” are so beautifully country that I can imagine them on pop country radio—you know the songs you occasionally hear there and think, “holy crap, this is good, how did pop country radio get a hold of this?” This, I think, is the kind of music the mainstream country guys mean to make, but some how get derailed by the bizarre corporate culture of the Nashville music industry.
“Next Time Around” almost feels like time traveling. You can feel the roots underpinnings here, which keep it on a country album, but the song itself delves heavily into the 60s rock influence. Listening to it I feel almost as if I am wearing white go-go boots, a very mini mini-skirt and dancing around with a bunch of shaggy haired boys wearing Beatle boots. Hurrah!
The album closes out with “Tremble” a live track that tilts back toward the pop music of the 60s. It is a song of sweetness and joy, sung with a kind of silly tenderness that just isn’t seen in much in music these days, which really is a shame. It ends the album on a note of happiness that totally sums up the joy that this album gives me.
Because we want you to love it as much as we do, we are doing a give-away of two copies of Country for Groovers. Be one of the first two people to tell me in comments why you think you are a country groover, make sure to leave your correct email address and I will mail you a copy of the album (and then go tell the boys how much you love it!).
So, yeah, the Men of Action are my pals, my drinking buddies, but for once I haven’t let that influence me at all. This album stands solidly on its own two feet, one foot deep in the land of country music, the other bearing the weight of real rock n’ roll. Go on, get you a copy. You won’t be sorry.