Austin, Texas-based Americana outlet MilkDrive has made leaps and bounds since their studio debut in 2011 with the release of Road From Home, establishing themselves as a collective of talented multi-instrumentalists capable of bending genres and taking names for sport. Fronted by lead vocalist Brian Beken (fiddle, mandolin, guitar) with support from Dennis Ludiker (fiddle, mandolin, harmonies), Noah Jeffries (guitar, fiddle, mandolin, harmonies), and Jesse Dalton (double bass, harmonies), the band have labeled themselves as progressive. With their neck-deep infatuation with an individualized fusion of the traditional instrumentation and composition style of bluegrass and folk numbers with the freedom of interpretation of jazz and the driving nature of rock and roll, they’ve most certainly developed into fitting the prescribed classification like a glove, cutting their own path into the industry one strum at a time.
MilkDrive returns with their third studio record, Places You’ve Not Been, which was recorded and entirely self-produced by the quartet at Bismeaux Studio in Austin. For an entirely independently-crafted release, the record is, in and of itself, an intense musical feat. Energetic album opener “Take Too Long” sets the scene for the tour de force in ineradicable fashion, featuring a rapidfire melody more akin to alternative rock than classic folk music. The track evolves into an all-out Americana-fueled jam on its bridge, featuring an impassioned violin performance that leads in perfectly to follow-up track “Orion’s Waltz”, an instrumental featuring exchanged come-hithers between mandolin, guitar and the aforementioned fiddle.
Even with the cradling lilt in Beken’s voice that makes it endlessly pleasant, it takes backseat to the sheer amount of instrumental force present on the album. The initial trio’s stance as talented multi-instrumentalists shines through on Places You’ve Not Been in ways that only world-worn human experience and serious practice can warrant, and the jams that so often occur between themselves and newcomer, consummate bassist Jesse Dalton, make for the lion’s share of the album’s most memorable moments. In many ways, MilkDrive reflects itself as a second coming of the celebrated Punch Brothers, innovating on a base mostly driven by of bluegrass and folk influences with the invoking of several other genres and patterns into the mix. They embrace a clear balance between the creative and technical sides of the musical mind, producing a close-knit series of instrumentally innovative tracks that are infinitely listenable for that reason alone, let alone ingenious lyrics and a trademark vocalist to deliver them on top of it all.
With that said, perhaps ironically, MilkDrive has its biggest moment on Places You’ve Not Been with their reinterpretation of Road From Home track “SoHo”, which is spearheaded by a bluesy vocal harmony reminiscent of 1970s pop western music. Everything comes together on this well-seasoned track that it could be, should be the band’s lead single from off of the album that they drive home for radio play and increased sales. The album closes out with a beautifully retrospective instrumental in the form of “Ode to Alice”, all in all summing up MilkDrive’s most cohesive, listenable release yet.
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