Moreland and Arbuckle – 7 Cities (2013)

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Blues-rock music don’t normally lend itself to big themes, and the trio of Moreland & Arbuckle didn’t start out intending to have one, but when they got done finalizing the song roster for their latest release, they took a look at what they had and found one. 7 Cities is their sixth album, the third for Concord Records-affiliated Telarc, and, I’d argue, a new apex for them. Not so much in how some of the songs are held together by the Spanish conquistador Coronado and his quest for cities of gold led him near the band’s present day hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Without getting too elaborate about it, it’s just a damn great sounding record.

Guitarist Aaron Moreland and vocalist/harmonica player Dustin Arbuckle have been honing their own brand of roots rock firmly grounded in a mutual respect and affinity for the Delta Blues and a smattering of other of organic inspirations run through some big amps for about a dozen years, now. Going without a bass player since 2006, they’ve only needed a drummer to go alongside Moreland’s crackling, hard-driving guitar and Arbuckle’s naturally soulful — and equally powerful — vocal delivery. Drummer Kendall Newby came on board for this album, succeeding Brad Horner.

That’s all fine and good — very good, actually — but after producing their own recordings from the beginning, M & A looked outside the band to produce this time, and Matt Bayles, whose prior credits include Mastodon and the Sword, answered the call. He made the music more immediate, direct, ordered up only essential overdubs, like backing vocals and a little organ, and ended up with a clean sound that paradoxically retained the grit and grime at the heart of this band.

“Quivira” relates the tale of the first visit to Kansas by a European, a history lesson that will rock you with a rugged guitar and a choral, Native American-like chant. The blistering boogie blues of “Road Blind” refers to the fatigue of traveling, something that the Spaniard could relate to. And then there’s the unexpected cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” the ultimate anthem about the quest for power and its negative consequences, the story of Coronado’s life.

Not every song adheres to the theme (neither does every song on Sgt. Pepper), but a fealty to the blues expressed with soul and power is frequently found in so many ways on the album. There’s the funk-rock punch of “Kow Tow,” the Little Walter jukin’ of “Tall Boogie,” country fried rock sway of “The Devil And Me,” and the soul-drenched “Bite You Tongue.” Even at the end of the record, the energy doesn’t fade as they rip through “Modern Boy” with Moreland’s thick slab of axe, Newby’s funky thump and Arbuckle’s amped up blues harp leading the charge.

The Black Keys and the Left Lane Cruisers have proven you can get a lot of music from so few musicians, and so does Moreland & Arbuckle. By never straying far from the spirit their heroes even as they sharpened their sound, 7 Cities makes a strong pitch for anyone who fancies those other bands.

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7 Cities will be released on July 30, by Telarc Records. Visit Moreland & Arbuckle’s website for more info.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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