Arkansas Dave – self titled
13 songs/49 min
Arkansas Dave’s self titled debut is a 2 flavor birthday cake. Outside beautiful frosting sweet tone, horns and vocals; underneath 2 distinct flavors of music: borderline modern country and hippy blue-eyed soul. An interesting binary that plays out very linearly. Songs 1 through 6 are all rough and tumble bravado, hard snare cracks and loud crunchy guitars. Songs 7 through 13 are introspective and humble vulnerability, swinging beats and spaced out washes of sound.
Austin based Dave (should we refer to him as “Arkansas”) recorded basic tracks at legendary FAME studios in Muscle Shoals with crack session players Will McFarlane on guitar, Clayton Ivey on organ, Bob Wray on bass and Justin Holder on drums. Memphis horns are peppered in from Charles Rose trombone, Jim Horn bari-sax, Steve Herman trumpet and Doug Moffet tenor sax. The depth of that funky sacred space and those soulful players leave an indelible stamp. Co-producers Arkansas (yeah that works) and Jamie “Gypsy” Evens (background vocals, piano and harpsichord), took tracks back to Austin and used multiple Lone Star studios and musicians to finish up including Chris Bishop, James Petralli and Drew deFrance on guitars, Marty Muse on pedal steel, Bobby Perkins and Jonah Holt on basses. Background vocals are courtesy of Marie Lewey, Cindy Richardson-Walker and mixing engineer Alberto de Icaza.
The hard hitting 1st six songs deal with booze, impulsivity and giving social norms the finger; epitomized by adrenaline infused straight ahead opener “Bad at Being Good.” The swampy reading of Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus” has a driving “rebar triangle” snap, courtesy of Richard “Rusty” Hannan, that is metallic and sharp. Centerpiece “Bad Water”’s faux-jazzy verse, that doesn’t really swing, relents to a big hair-metal chorus. The lyricism, straight on the beat drumming and anthemic choruses on side 1 are more in line with modern country straight talk songwriting than the Blues. If you are a fan of this type of music than this will be a cool mash-up.
Side 2 highlights Arkansas’ singing. Wailing with tenderness and none of the sneer of side 1, Arkansas crafts a cycle of songs that underpins his voice with R&B soul, psychedelic shakedowns and prog-rock mathematics at times in the same song. The harpsichord resplendent 6/8 minor key swing of “The Wheel,” stands out. It has deep plodding riffage that takes King Crimson style twists and turns. The homegrown Band inflected ballad “Jubilee” is warm and brown hued. Quiet album closers “Hard Times” and “Coming Home,” are hollow personal performances that put a sentimental cap on this eclectic ride.
Sometimes this bouillabaisse of style doesn’t work to the best effect. A favorite part of this album is the moody reggae verses of the “Rest of My Days.” A least favorite part is the Jack Johnson feel good choruses of “Rest of My Days.” This type of drastic juxtaposition of style and feel can be a very effective songwriting device. This technique seems to be something Arkansas has been working to develop.
Arkansas Dave, the debut record, is a strong personal statement which has the promise of creative things to come. Arkansas Dave the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is a distinct musician with a seemingly wide range of influences. The sometimes drastic eclecticism of the record and the musician are a unique hook. When executed well, as it is for most of the record, it is engaging and exhilarating and demands multiple listens.