Alt-country will always find room to roam in the Green Mountains. The latest entrant to the denim-clad flock is Bristol’s Cash Is King . On its debut record, King of the Summer, the quintet serves up a tantalizing collection of tunes that suggests the group should be a welcome addition to the local Americana and country scenes for years to come.
“Return of the One” opens the record with rolling acoustic guitar flanked by a stinging lead courtesy of guitarist Conor McQuade and Aidan Lenihan’s ghostly, arcing lap steel. Lead vocalist and songwriter Ryan McCrea’s full-bodied baritone cuts through the dusky haze with brusque, alt-country swagger. McCrea’s performance is not immediately impressive, but repeated listens reveal a subtlety in his delivery that serves his acutely honed wordplay well.
“…121…” begins as a mournful guitar-and-voice duet that explodes with exultant vocal harmonies at the chorus. In particular, vocalist Christina Durfee’s soaring alto blooms over a bed of light, reverb-washed guitar, bowed bass and intermittent splashes of piano. Her interplay with McCrea during the song’s last verses are an especially nice touch.
“The Bone” is something of a mixed bag, depending on whether you view the song as a clumsy pastiche of Americana touchstones or a clever sendup of genre contrivances. As the former, the song is banal. As the latter, it’s an enjoyable barb at overused country chestnuts: Your woman leaves you, your truck dies, you lost your job, but, hey, you’ve still got the dog. And booze. Unfortunately, it’s tough to discern just which angle the band is pursuing — though given the relative artfulness evident at other points throughout the record, this critic is inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.
“Black Bird” is a searching, melancholy ballad, elevated by Ben Lively’s graceful violin and still more lovely vocal accents from Durfee.
The title track is a swooning album highlight, evoking the romance of hazy summer evenings and sun-soaked drives over country roads.
“The Jones” is a wily, if occasionally clunky, little romp. At moments throughout the record, McCrea’s delivery is a little too forceful. Here, he struggles to match the song’s laid-back, slacker country vibe.
“Chicago Skyline” rescues the record from the previous tune’s minor malaise. It’s a taut, slow-building gem. McCrea returns to form, unfurling poignant lines with simmering urgency.
The bluesy “Puro” closes the album with swampy aplomb. Lenihan’s eerie steel battles McQuade’s supercharged lead guitar for space amid a steamy soundscape, while McCrea channels his inner blues howler. It’s a gritty close to a promising debut.
Catch Cash Is King this Friday at The Monkey House in Winooski with the Grift and Dank Funk.