Michael Acree and I used to play in a couple of bands together back in our high school days. One of them consisted of a freaky group of guys who had no musical skills whatsoever and cranked out such gems as “Communist Toilet” and “Weird, Man Snooz-A-Rama” while the other was a three piece jam band that cranked out overly long and rambling covers of Neil Young and Bob Marley tunes, as well as some nifty originals like “The Carnival”. Those were the days.
Now, a decade has gone by. I saw Michael maybe a couple times through these past 10 years. Next thing I know, he’s living out in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and cranking out his first self-released disc, Four Cold Days In December with his group, The Second Time Through. Oh yeah, and he’s also gone from being the innocent (!), Dylan/Grateful Dead fan to a hardened beer-drinkin’, ass-kickin’ cowboy, complete with a cowboy hat. Or something like that. You see, having known Michael all these years, I know where he’s coming from unlike some other critic who might just be working off the surface of the image and the music.
So far, Acree has mainly been compared to Jay Farrar with a bit of country-ish Rolling Stones and Hank Williams thrown in for good measure. But the fact of the matter is that this is simply Michael Acree Music. It’s the same music we used to play together, albeit with more of a twang. But Michael’s still spinning tales of lonely women (the bittersweet “She’s Not Thinking”) and self-criticism (“This Loner Thing”, which brings back a lot of memories of those high school years and is one of the best cuts here). He always had a way with words. I remember when I used to be the drummer in his group, I’d be listening to his lyrics and thinking “What the hell is he going on about now?” But only because Michael writes what he knows from the heart. Whereas I was penning silly punk tunes left and right, Acree was always there striking a deeper chord that the rest of us really weren’t paying attention to.
So yes, this is your kind of alt-country/roots rock hybrid that we have all come to know and love from such acts as Uncle Tupelo, early Wilco, et al. After the melancholy kickoff of the first two tracks, “Big Sky” and “She’s Not Thinking”, the band (composed of Acree on guitar and vocals, Josh Pruiett on banjo and resonator-guitar, Lew Card doing a bang-up job on mandolin, Trev Wooten on bass, and Matt Martin on drums) cranks the tempo up a notch and pretty much rocks out on the tightly wound “Generator” that has the most engaging final riff I’ve heard in a long time. Yes, it’s one of those tunes that leaves you wanting for more. “This Loner Thing” keeps the pace up for another three minutes and then the lights are turned down low again for the wistful “Run Back Home”. The band even turns in a slightly tongue-in-cheek tear in my beer ode, “The Drunk’s Last Chance” featuring Gary Roadarmel and Molly Conley of the group Porter Hall, TN on telecaster and backing vocals respectively. The show is finally brought to a close with the solid “Big Secret/Small Town”.
Four Cold Days In December is professional through and through. Personally, I’m proud of Michael and very happy that he and his group put out such a great-sounding release. And the production really is nice here. It shines throughout, allowing the band to play it as they like without ever taking away any of the substance. And for a self-release, that in itself is a triumph. All too often I receive discs by bands who worked on a lot of the knob turning themselves and wind up destroying what could have been a great album because they simply didn’t know what they were doing. However, Michael Acree and the Second Time Through seem to know exactly what they’re doing, and I can only tell you about their fine music and wish them much luck in the future. To secure your copy of Four Cold Days In December, either send an email to Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the group’s website at www.mp3.com/michaelacree.