Music Review: J B Beverley & The Wayward Drifters - Watching America Role By
Country music sure has changed since the days the people of the Appalachians were singing the songs their Scottish and Irish ancestors brought over with them from across the water. Not only does the majority of so-called country we hear today bear no relationship to any of those traditional songs, listening to it you'd be hard pressed to understand why the heck it is even called country as it has nothing to do with country life or the people who live it. What far too many of these groups, or performers, have done is use the sentimental nature of the old folk songs as inspiration for their material and wrap the result in the tinsel of pop music.
That they still seem to think they're qualified to sing songs about farmers, long distance truckers, and the beauty of trains is a bit of a joke, especially when you consider the closest most of them have come to any of the above has been passing them in their converted tour buses. It's no wonder that the majority of what you hear on the "country charts" sounds about as sincere as a politician caught with his hand in the cookie jar or an evangelical preacher with a prostitute. While recent years has seen something of a revival of interest in the traditional style of music, the chances of you getting to hear it on the radio on a regular basis remain slim to none.
However, if you're willing to stray away from the radio dial and venture off into un"charted" territory you'll have a far better chance of hearing music with a whole lot more substance. One of the bands off the map are J B Beverlry &The Wayward Drifters. They've just released their second recording, Watch America Roll By on their own, Helltrain Records label.
Nowhere on any of the twelve tracks on Watching America Roll By are you going to hear a voice catch in order to simulate emotion as the lead singer, J B Beverley, doesn't need to resort to such fakery. He sings with a voice that sounds like its been scarred not only by what he's experienced personally, but by the empathy he feels for others and their stories. While it's important for a singer/songwriter to have been around the block a few times and had his or her share of what life can throw at you, what's just as important is how they express that in song. You can sing about yourself and be full of self pity, or you can sing about yourself in such a manner that everybody can identify with what you're talking about as you've taken the personal and made it universal.
Beverley is one of the latter, so even when he's singing a song about how he's always been alone in "Me And My Blues", anybody whose ever felt like they're destined to spend their life by themselves will feel like he's singing about them. Of course there's some songs that you're not going to identify with directly, but even on a track like "Interstate Blues" where he sings about the band travelling around paying their dues, we're drawn into the song in such a way that we can understand what he's talking about.
It doesn't hurt of course that the band plays some of the most infectious honky-tonk style of country that I've heard in ages. They swing through every song with a joie de vivre that at the least will set you toes to tapping or get you up dancing. Yet at the same time the music doesn't prevent you from listening to what he has to say either. Which is a good thing because you wouldn't want to miss some of the song's lyrics no matter how much fun you're having with the music. In particular I like "They'll Only Play My Music When I'm Dead" where he takes a few pokes at the Nashville establishment and how they regulate the music that gets played. However he's not really bitter or angry about it, as he turns the song into a bit of a joke with stuff along the lines of if he wants to support his dear old mom he needs to eat some lead, because they'll only play his songs when he's dead.
Of course it doesn't hurt that all the members of the band can handle their instruments as well as anybody you've ever heard pick up a banjo, mandolin, guitar, or acoustic bass. While Beverley handles the lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Dan "BanjerDan" Mazer burns up leads on banjo, mandolin, and dobro, and Johnny Lawless lays down the rhythm with his double bass. As the core of the band these three are the old time equivalent of the rock and roll power trio in the way they can lay down honky-tonk country blues. While their sound is augmented by some friends on this disc, you can tell that even on their own these three would put on a great show. In fact they're so good that you don't even realize until the album's finished that they don't use a drum kit or any sort of percussion at all.
There are very few bands who call themselves country that I can stand listening to anymore, so coming across a band like J B Beverley & The Wayward Drifters is like finding a pocket of clean air in the middle of a rush hour traffic jam. What makes them so damn refreshing is the fact they aren't trying to imitate old time music by singing songs written hundreds of years ago, or singing about subjects they know nothing about like farming or hard rock mining. They sing about the world today set to music that's timeless and in voices that we can all relate to. Some of the edges might be rough enough for you shave yourself with, but that's part of what makes their sound so honest and their songs so real.
If you don't think that country music has to be accompanied by rhinestones and big hair and your sick and tired of songs written about a country you don't recognize, than you need to be listening to J B Beverley & The Wayward Drifters. This is country music that speaks to everybody, not just pretend cowboys who've never had to get their boots dirty.