In 2007, Axton Kincaid garnered critical acclaim for its authentic, unaffected alt-country from NPR and several publications and media outlets around the world. Songs from the Pine Room‘s “Red Lights” and “Who’s Gonna Pour My Whiskey When You’re Gone?” were popular hits on international radio and blogs. Now, the band returns with Silver Dollars and continues the exploration and integration of roots music into its own brand of modern Americana.
“The Saddest Story” kicks things off with a sunny sound that, as in all the best songs, belies the dark heartbreak of its lyrics (a friend falling victim to his demons and drinking). Jennifer Daunt’s jaunty mandolin and Katy Rexford’s fiery fiddle punctuate a sprightly rhythm, courtesy of bassist Ryan Waggoner and drummer Jon Fojtik, and the warm harmonies of Daunt and Waggoner’s voices mingle with Kate Howser’s, almost making you forget the sorrowful subject.
“Walking Papers”, a classic country ballad with just a hint of swing, again counters the lyrical theme with an irresistibly upbeat arrangement. “Can’t you see dear / I want you only / I want to spend my life with you / Not sad and lonely / Let me come back to you / Don’t make me feel so blue / Take back those walking papers” The track transcends time, as it could have been a hit for Patsy Cline. It’s easy to imagine Howser had Cline in mind as she sang.
Kate Howser’s vocals are the natural focal point of Silver Dollars, and the title track highlights her tough-yet-tender voice coupled with a somber fiddle performance from Rexford; later Daunt provides a magnificently mournful harmonica solo. While “Silver Dollars” has an undeniably burnished beauty, the best song on the album arguably follows it.
“We Should Be Drinking” is the perfect song for, well, drinking. It features The Whoreshoes’ Camilla Lincoln on piano; a nod to Buddy Holly; a shuffling, boisterous beat; and a sing-along chorus the band gleefully embraces: “We should be drinking / Let’s find the nearest bar / It may not be close /But I tell you what / It sure can’t be far / We should be drinking / We ain’t got much time / And I’ve got more than just the troubles on my mind.”
The band changes direction for the lonesome cowboy shuffle of “Let the World Go By.” Sung—and whistled—by Waggoner, the song is perfected by pedal steel (played by Mac Martine) and a melancholy refrain:
Some days are lonely days
Some days are just rain
Some days are just lonely days
They don’t bring nothing but pain
And in those times, you know I find
It just don’t pay to cry
Just lie in the shade, have a drink
And let the world go by
“Let the World Go By” abruptly gives way to a rather raucous re-working of the traditional “Long Black Veil” sung with Howser on lead. Although not as affecting as the band’s somber, sorrowful take on the Stone Roses hit “I Wanna Be Adored” from last year’s Songs from the Pine Room, it affirms as an impressive and a worthy addition.
“I Don’t Need To Wear a Hat (To Prove I’m Country)” proves to be as equally impressive, ending the album on a high and humorous note. Each member of Axton Kincaid takes turns telling what doesn’t mark his or her authenticity, “I don’t need no Nudie suit to prove I’m country / I don’t need no rhinestones that shine / I don’t need no Achy Breaky to dance all night long / But I sure as heck will walk the line!”
Axton Kincaid switches things up several times across this album by incorporating California country-rock and Kentucky bluegrass while evoking Nashville new and old and never worrying about whether these elements are meant to mix. The band reveres tradition, not convention, and Silver Dollars shines because of it.