Wood & Steel
Local four-piece acoustic act The Bushels rock and stomp harder than expected on their new seven-song studio collection.
The fast-chuggin' harmonica solo that kicks off "Cheap Beer Bar Brand Blues" — a fiery performance by Bushels guitarist Jim Algar that rivals Shorty Medlocke's in Blackfoot's "Train, Train" — foreshadows the bluesy raunchiness to come. While there's still plenty of traditional bluegrass and country flavor in the music, The Bushels stretch away from typical song structures of the genres.
While mandolinist/singer Mal Jones' peppery string work and banjoist Guilds Hollowell's rolling finger-picking technique resemble elements of the best bluegrass and mountain music in the current jam scene, the revolving lead vocal duties and rich harmonies between Jones and the Algar brothers (Jim and bass-playing sibling Whitt) steer things into more pop-rock/blues-tinged songsmith territory.
Like their 2009 debut, a five-song, self-titled EP, The Bushels recorded Wood & Steel at Scott Sain's Blacktree Studio on Johns Island, keeping things simple and uncluttered.
Quick-paced with a vibrant beat, "Dust Me Off," "See Ya Soon," and "Kon Let's Dance" (pronounced almost like "Come on, let's dance" in the chorus) bounce with an air of romance and puppy love, keeping a bluegrass feel and a thumping 2/4 rhythm. The strummier "Someday" slows down a bit, easing with a cool, swingy beat and smooth harmonies.
The fellas hot-foot it on "Train Called Love," the most rockin' track of the bunch. It sounds like the kind of countrified, riff-laden shenanigans the Meat Puppets got into on their first few albums — deliberately hectic with snarls and bellows on one hand and rapid-fire chops on the other.
The band's bluesy side shines on another nice standout, "Ain't Gon' Be Troubled," a slow-burning song with some of the sweetest moanin' and groanin' of the year.
The band's two years' worth of jamming, picking, and fine-tuning their set as the house band at Seel's on Sullivan's (formerly Off the Hook) on Sullivan's Island seems to have paid off nicely. There's nothing forced or affected about these new songs. With a solid approach and an air of confidence, The Bushels can more easily glide from mellow ballads to more dynamic anthems these days.
Devoid of special effects, fancy overdubs, and production tricks, Wood & Steel is pretty simple stuff, but, overall, the band's sound is a bit fuller than last year's debut.
The musical and vocal chemistry between Jones, Hollowell, and the Brothers Algar seems more complex and developed as well. Wood & Steel's a keeper. (myspace.com/thebushels)
The Bushels perform every Wednesday at Seel's on Sullivan's from 7-10 p.m.