Athens, Georgia-based the Corduroy Road are no strangers to the stretch of bars, clubs, and highways scattered along southeastern region of the United States. Having previously released their debut album, Love is a War and their Live at the 40 Watt, the newly re-formed band has been earning its stripes the honest way over the past half-decade, gradually picking up fans at their always-energetic shows. The Corduroy Road’s latest effort, the independently released Two-Step Silhouette, highlights the group’s move from a bar band one would stumble upon to a group of guys who ought to (and surely will) deserve national attention.
The leadoff (not to mention standout) track on the group’s latest effort, “My Dear Odessa” begins with a nearly perfect line by bassist/vocalist Elijah Nee Smith: “The clutch can’t forgive what the wheels don’t know / My mistake is all my own”. From the first track on, we’re taken on a sometimes darkly violent (“Smokehouse Whip”), sometimes somber (“Open Your Eyes When You Sing”) ride through the American South that seems to fit 1932 better than 2012. But great songs always have the quality of feeling like they don’t belong to the historical moment that spawned them, and the vast majority of Two-Step manages to be simultaneously untimely and timeless. This is no small feat for a band that had only a single full-length record and a few EPs previously under their belts.
The best effort by Drew Carman, another vocalist for the group, is without much doubt the album’s closer, “Struggle and Strain”. To say the track could easily be rearranged for a piano-based ballad isn’t a criticism of the tune at all. Although the performances by the five-some on the track are more than adequate, the strength of the song is in the song itself, as evidenced by Carman’s call to “struggle and strain and find the better man in you” as the fiddle playing of Russell McCumber gracefully leads the band into closing the record.
Smith and Carman traffic equally in metaphor throughout Two-Step, but the themes on the record are familiar to the ever-growing genre of Americana: heartbreak, loss, and the incessant (and usually difficult) search for redemption. The Corduroy Road don’t reinvent the wheel on the record, but they do tip their hats to the country and bluegrass legends who greased the gears to make more recent incarnations of Americana music possible.
Much of the lyrical content throughout is nostalgic for lost places, traditions, and women. But the album also features an instrumental arrangement of the Appalachian traditional “Elzik’s Farewell”, a track that spotlights the absolutely searing fiddle of McCumber. The young string master is mixed well on a great deal of the entire record, but it is here that any question of the band’s ability to spotlight virtuoso performances will be laid to rest.
The pingy tones of Matt Dyson’s lead guitar and banjo parts (represented best on the album’s second instrumental, “Warm Well Gin” and “All Around This Town”, respectfully) and the often blistering drumming of Garrett Chism do more than merely round out the Corduroy Road; they push the band’s sound beyond an easy association with the much-too-favored Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers. If the high-quality songwriting of Two-Step Silhouette is a sign of things to come, then it is likely that the group will find itself sharing a bill with these charting acts in the not-too-distant future.