Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons: Bend in the Road

MarkStuartBastardSons_BendInTheRoadArdent, road-hardened country and Americana

The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash return with their first studio album since 2005’s Mile Markers, and though several players, including bassist Taras Prodaniuk, drummer Dave Raven and guitarist Mike Turner also return, there are some significant changes. First, the band has dropped “of Johnny Cash” from the back end and added singer-songwriter “Mark Stuart” to the front. In many ways the group has been Stuart’s vision from the start, as it was his interest in country music that provided the original direction; the step out front mostly acknowledges what’s already been true.

The latest edition of the Bastards, and Stuart’s latest batch of original tunes (augmented by the opening cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal”), are his best yet. The band plays with more verve and Stuart sings with more freewheeling energy than ever. You can hear the influences of Billy Joe, Waylon and Hank Jr. in his tone, phrasing and attitude; his music has become bluesier and more convincing. Perhaps it’s the refreshment of moving from California to Austin, but more likely it just the authority of road-hardened talent that allows Stuart to romance the melodies and rhythms of his country shuffles and roadhouse blues.

Stuart’s blossoming confidence shows in his songs, which flow from the grooves like old friends. The album’s originals open with the banjo, fiddle and guitar of “Restless, Ramblin’ Man.” Stuart sings against bluegrass harmonies about the uncontrollable wanderlust that’s kept him on the road for two-hundred dates a year. He writes of being blindsided, renewed and supported by love, but also of its ephemeral nature and the blue sorrow of its fade. He finds a comforting conclusion to serial monogamy on “Best Thing” and struts through a romantically sunny day on “Everything’s Going My Way.” Even when he’s kicking up his heels to escape the drudgery of the world’s ills, such as on the Mellancamp-esque “Fireflies & Corn Liquor,” Stuart keeps to the bright side.

The Bastard Sons cook up a country rock sound filled with driving beats, second-line rhythms, twangy electric guitar solos and well-placed blue notes. They only slow down twice, for the ballad “Lonestar, Lovestruck, Blues” and the beseeching lament, “Carolina.” The latter is surprisingly unresolved and morose, given the album’s definitive and upbeat tone. Stuart is on to a next-phase in his music, relaxing into the Austin scene and stepping out from the self-imposed shadow of Johnny Cash. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | When Love Comes A Callin’
Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons’ MySpace Page

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2 Responses to “Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons: Bend in the Road”

  1. Ok. Not too bad…but they ain’t plowin any new fields here, huh?

  2. hyperbolium says:

    It’s sounds to me like an evolution of what they’ve been doing all along, but it’s not a gigantic sideways step to something you’ve never heard before.

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