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Country rockers Amigo go retro with new sophomore LP

Cosmic Camaraderie

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There's something inherently comforting about the ferociously lovable rock 'n' roll that the Charlotte-based band Amigo makes.

The group, who are set to celebrate the recent release of their sophomore LP And Friends this Saturday at Royal American, maintains a fun, bar band mentality to songs that can slide from Lynyrd Skynyrd-style Southern rock boogie to Flying Burrito Brothers-indebted country-rock with ease. All the while frontman Slade Baird's songwriting balances plaintive, singer/songwriter material with lighthearted and often sardonic asides that recall the impetuousness of Jason & the Scorchers or Robbie Fulks.

The band has been a familiar sight in the Carolinas in recent years as a rag-tag trio with a bit of alt-country punk-rock spirit, but the arrangements on And Friends showcase a more expansive palette with pedal steel, keys, organ, and horns pegging the band firmly in the early-to-mid 1970s heyday of country-rock.

"When the songs came together or when they were being written, I just kind of knew what they needed, you know?" shrugs Baird. "What they were kind of asking for, just based on the kind of records that we are really in to and listen to. A lot of that '70s country rock, early '70s Gene Clark, those really groovy Townes Van Zandt records with more kind of bigger instrumentation, and so on."

The band selected legendary producer and Let's Go frontman Mitch Easter's Fidelitorium Studio in Kernersville, N.C. to record the album. The decision was made in part because it allowed the band to record in the same room together and to tape, but it provided a central location for musicians like Jay Shirley (piano, organ) and Nathan Golub (pedal steel, dobro) to join in the sessions, too.

The lush sound actually fits the band's sensibilities more than the rough-and-tumble three-piece, according to Baird.

"If there was any possibility of going out [on tour] like that, with the Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen set up, we would do it," he laughs. "The reality is that, you know, it's enough for like the three of us to be able to afford a hotel room on tour. But when we're making a record and it's for all of time, we want the songs to live like we heard them in our heads in the first place."

The extra instrumentation gives songs like the fiddle-led country ramble of "Those Old Clothes We Liked are Back In Style" and the elegiac mid-tempo reminiscing of "Too Far Gone?," which features lush keys and flourishes of saxophone, a stronger bed for Baird's twangy, lilting vocals, which can often have the uncertain tremble of Rick Danko or the sumptuous sweetness of Gram Parsons.

"I think we're drawing from the same general well as [those musicians]," says Baird of the stylistic similarities. "I mean I think the reference points of Bob Dylan and the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers and all that stuff is kind of all mixed in there ... I feel a real sort of cosmic camaraderie with all those bands, who are also all influences too, but also maybe peers in a certain sense?

"We're kind of in the middle of a lot of reference points and sort of move around a bit stylistically," he continues. "We have straight-up country numbers and sort of more boogie numbers, so we move around the map a little bit, which I guess makes it harder to pin us down. But we do it because it makes it way more fun for us to be able to do different things."

And Friends arrives on the band's own label, Carlisle Beauregard Records, although Baird is quick to credit Stephen Judge from Schoolkid Records with guiding them through a lot of the business details. "He helped us work out a distribution deal and stuff," Baird explains. "They just weren't in a position to put out [the album] because they already had three or four records in line ahead of us."

While there's any number of catchy tunes on And Friends that could build on the limited Americana radio success the band had with their debut, the group seems happy just to have this second batch of tunes recorded in a manner that lives up to their promise. Baird admits, "Even though we know we're going to be doing the punk-rock versions when we go from town to town."

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