Album Review – 49 Winchester’s “III”

photo: Johnson City Aerial Photography

They’re ugly. They’re hairy. And if they had their way, they’d be stinking up an Econoline at this very moment barreling towards your town to melt your face off and make you misty-eyed as you sway your High Life back and forth to the bass line. But some dude had to snack on a bat half way around the world, and the home game will have to do for 2020. But lucky for us, the home game ain’t half bad.

Hailing from Castlewood, VA in the heart of Appalachia, the five-piece 49 Winchester serves it up greasy, whether it’s Southern fried rock, honky tonk country, sentimental moments tickling the fringes of Americana, or a version of soul that takes all of those influences and stews them. It’s always Southern, but the variety of flavors you’re served keeps you on your toes for 10 tracks. And eventually an album you start off thinking might be good for a quick hoot turns out running through a range of emotions you may have not been ready for, though you sure do appreciate the ride afterwards.

One issue with being greasy and loose like these guys is sometimes you’re hard to pin down. You rack this record up, look at these dudes, eyeball the cover with a bearded guy in a trucker hat with antlers, and then when the first track that hits you is a full-fledged road song fit for blasting in a Peterbilt, you think that’s what’s going on here: boot-stomping trucker country. But then they immediately shift into the slow-tempo’d and sentimental “Everlasting Lover,” and you’re caught off guard.

This is kind of how it goes throughout III (named for being their 3rd LP). The third song “The Road Home” finds you out on the road again, but this time in a more emotional longing for one’s lover. Whatever it is, the chorus hits you hard, and you keep listening until you encounter straight up country songs like the early Prine-feeling “Why Else Would I Call You?” with its sort of silly and swaying attitude, or later the tearjerker “You Never Did Love Me.” But they’re bisected by a song like “Raleigh” with it’s watery tone, and lyrics that could have been penned by BJ Barham of American Aquarium.

Difficulty settling into the groove of this record is the reason a proper album review has been a few months in coming. Variety is always welcome, but you also want to be able to hold the audience in moods as opposed to pulling them in and out of them. And though that overall concern still lingers, many of the individual songs on III are just too damn good to pass over. The album might be crowned by the swaying “Hays, Kansas,” which makes for the perfect launching pad for lead singer and songwriter Isaac Gibson to do his worst, and he doesn’t let you down.

Though it may sound like a banckhand compliment, Isaac Gibson has that blasting soul power with his voice similar to Chris Stapleton, but just not as clean. That’s what makes it so great though. You get those tingly vibes when Gibson hits certain notes, but there’s also just enough dirt in his voice to make it real. He sings with heart in a way where you feel the words more compared to the way prettier singers would render them.

And though this is a proper band and not a singer with side pieces, Isaac Gibson is the center of attention, and he pulls it off well. But it’s also the brotherhood vibe from this band that imbibes their music with that sort of blue collar, local hero flavor. You want to root for these dudes. You want them to come to your town so you can buy them a beer. You want them to get big enough that they keep coming to your town, but not so big they stop.

Touching on a wide range of emotions and musical vibes, 49 Winchester puts out an album some people have been braying on about being the the best all year since it hit shelves in early October. If it hits you just right, maybe it is. But either way, it’s certainly fair to add to the discussion.

(yet another) 1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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