Good luck finding baby formula, gas under four bucks, a single family home under half a million, or steel guitar in a country radio single these days. But thank goodness that hungry young men and women are still crazy enough to climb into 15 passenger vans and drive across the country playing in bars and honky-tonks, trying to scratch enough green together to make it to the next town, record a few tracks, and have them find their way to thirsty ears all around the country and world looking for audio salvation in these times of meager means.
Bounding out from Russell County, Virginia—which sits in the crux between Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and North Carolina—49 Winchester is truly the local band done good. From the unincorporated community of Castlewood (pop. 2000), the nucleus of the band grew up in the same small neighborhood, and have been chasing the crazy dream of becoming rock stars ever since. Lo and behold, they’ve now called their own bluff and done it, being signed to New West Records, playing big festivals, and getting name dropped as one of the hottest bands on the rise in independent country and roots music at the moment.
Fortune Favors The Bold is very much an album about the struggles and triumphs of an up-and-coming band, sacrificing to see their dreams realized, bouncing back and forth between the exhilaration of being on the road, then missing the comforts and loved ones of back home, only to be rendered restless once again when they’re home for a week or two. It’s about looking forward while simultaneously reflecting on the past. It’s about imbibing in sin while yearning for redemption. It’s about staying young, hungry, and free, while trying to mature and adapt.
These dichotomies and contradictions make up the lyrical content of the record, but it’s an amalgam of Southern sounds that comprise the 49 Winchester sonic recipe, deftly sliding from Southern rock to straight up country, then into blues and maybe even some bluegrass influences. Whatever itch is acting up in your Southern American music diet, 49 Winchester is here to scratch it. And though perhaps nothing will ever replace the energy of their live shows, that sweaty, gritty feel certainly stuck to the masters of the 10 recordings on Fortune Favors The Bold.
The chemistry of this band, the exuberance and infectiousness of their live performances, and the hometown hero aspect of their story makes you want to egg them on even more. 49 Winchester is fun to root for. But really, it’s the effortlessly soulful voice of frontman and guitarist Isaac Gibson that makes 49 Winchester so much more than just another cool country band. Gibson may be a bearded and bespeckled dude from Virginia, but when he rears back, he can testify like a sainted old Black woman. This is Chris Stapleton, Aretha Franklin level shit. Washed in the blood, as they say.
Fortune Favors The Bold does have a couple of tracks where the writing feels a little pedestrian. There are quite a few songs about drinking and bars and such, though write about what you know I guess. But my goodness, when Isaac Gibson lights into his homesick ode “Russell County Line,” or the one about getting his heart broke in Nashville called “Damn Darlin’,” or when he sings about running out of forgiveness on “Second Chance,” you’ll be blaming seasonal allergies for your eye redness.
It’s a carnival of riches out there in this the streaming age of music when you’re looking for songwriters who can devastate with their stories. But there’s only a select few with the talent to deliver them with as much conviction and soul as Isaac Gibson, while the rest of his brothers in 49 Winchester are right there tastefully complimenting his singing and stories with a similar level of soul and guts behind every note.
Country music was made for hard times. Never asking for anything more than what they’re owed, and being more than willing to work for their fair share, 49 Winchester has gone from a little local band playing tunes on the street in Castlewood, VA that the band is named for, to becoming one of the most buzzed-about bands in roots music. It didn’t happen by accident, or via rich benefactors, or machinations of the music industry. It happened via the boldness and talent of this band, and were all fortunate that it did.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.2/10)