Album Review – “Iron Mine” by the Ugly Valley Boys
From the lowly and remote outpost for underground country that is Salt Lake City, amid the spires of Latter Day Saints churches and the shimmering mountains cutting into the sky, you will find two old souls by the name of Ryan Eastlyn and Braxton Brandenburg, known collectively as the Ugly Valley Boys.
It’s a strange place to find purveyors of stripped down country blues played 2-piece style, but listeners to the Ugly Valley Boys span well past Salt Lake’s city limits—they leap international borders. They may be few in numbers, but they Ugly Valley Boys fans count themselves as firm believers in the band due in good part to the outfit’s 2011 record Double Down. The self-recorded, self-released affair emerged during the heyday of underground country, and became a cult favorite far and wide from Ryan Eastlyn’s cavernous and enveloping moan, and his ability to pen melodies and choruses that made the most of it. It was hauntingly familiar in its adherence to the roots, yet groundbreaking in its original application of them. And despite seven solid years of attempting to wear Double Down out, it’s hard to still not return to it as a perfect mood setter for a long road trip or a lonely night.
Seven years is a long time nonetheless, but this is not your normal van-bound touring outfit. One of the cool things about the Ugly Valley Boys is their personal stories, as Saving Country Music highlighted shortly after the release of their first album. Their old school, throwback identity isn’t just skin deep, or isolated to their musical pursuits. Singer and guitar player Ryan Eastlyn works building and repairing neon signs for a living—tying him directly to a lot of the inspiration for many a country song. Upright bass player Braxton Branderburg operates an old school barber shop. It was cool enough these guys were employing themselves in these by-gone pursuits when their first record came out. The fact that both have been able to hold onto those passions and still pursue their passion for music through the years speaks to the dedication they have to their craft, and to themselves.
Despite promises delivered shortly after the release of the first album that a new project would be on the way shortly, life must have gotten in the way for Ryan and Braxton. But patience has been rewarded with their newest record for 2018, Iron Mine. Molded very much in a similar approach to their debut Double Down, it once again features the finely crafted songs and voice of Ryan Eastlyn that deserve recognition well beyond Utah, and the rhythmic bass work of Braxton Brandenburg that shouldn’t go unnoticed for it’s vital heart to making the Ugly Valley Boys sound work so well.
Iron Mine is a little angrier than the first installment, and spends a little less time reminiscing, and a little more time in the present tense. Perhaps money problems are one of the reasons this record was so long in coming, as evidenced in songs like “Sideshow” about the value of a man’s labor, and “Turn The Screw” about tribulations with the taxman. Eastlyn sings about the financial woes so many of us face, and in a gritty reality that it’s easy to believe comes ripped right out his own experiences.
The billowy and sweet choruses that marked their previous effort are replaced to some extent with a bit more growl and red meat. Though the Ugly Valley Boys do a great job rendering their two-piece concept with what you can expect to hear when they perform live, they will add a guitar solo here and there in the studio, and on Iron Mine, it tends to be slightly less melodic, and more on the attack. But that soulful moan of Eastlyn, and his ear for melody composition is still where the songs and the sound of the Ugly Valley Boys springs from. A bit of steel guitar also enters into the picture in perfect amounts here and there to enhance a song, yet not define it.
The underground of country music is a tumultuous, tempest-tossed environment where just holding on and surviving is a measurement of success. The Ugly Valley Boys had already done their part by turning in a defining record of the underground legacy in Double Down. And though Iron Mine may not better it, few if any will, while it definitely lives up to the expectations the band has set, and serves starving ears that have been waiting seven years for new interpretations of this unique old sound what they’ve been hoping for.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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Purcahse Iron Mine form the Ugly Valley Boys
January 30, 2018 @ 12:02 pm
I listened to their last album from beginning to end over and over again. It was one of those albums I couldn’t put down. I’m glad to see these guys come out with a new album. Definitely one underrated band.
January 30, 2018 @ 12:17 pm
I don’t think there’s been a 3 month span in the last 7 years where at some point I didn’t pull up “Double Down,” and that’s from someone who rarely gets to listen to music recreationally.
January 30, 2018 @ 12:18 pm
When reading the review, I couldn’t wait to get to the clips. Unfortunately, they weren’t as interesting as the review. I couldn’t get past Eastlyn’s “soulful” moan – it was incomprehensible, like every ghost on a Scooby-Doo episode.
The production (besides the bass) was very pedestrian for two interesting characters. I felt like the pedal was buried too deep in the background of Mountain Man.
Maybe I’ll try it again later.
January 30, 2018 @ 1:50 pm
One thing you might want to do is listen to their first album “Double Down” first, and then listen to this album. It may help you “get” what’s at the heart of their sound, and that will make you more receptive to this one.
I don’t mean to keep overshadowing this effort with their first record because I think “Iron Mine” is very solid as well. But when you have one of those truly iconic records like “Double Down” was, you’re never going to top it. “Double Down” got a perfect grade, and as so many are saying here, it has withstood the test of time. If anything, it’s grown even better. “Iron Mine” might do the same.
January 30, 2018 @ 2:08 pm
I’ll do that!
January 31, 2018 @ 4:25 pm
Thanks for your opinion, Thanks for giving it a listen!
Hope you can give the album another go! 👍
January 30, 2018 @ 1:02 pm
The kind of music everybody needs, but most don’t know it, or ever will.
January 30, 2018 @ 1:07 pm
I love this new production. I think it take’s a lot of gut’s to keep pushing through to get out another album 7 years after the first, which was amazing as well. I agree with Trigger’s thoughtful and educated review. Appreciated the back history. I, for one, have found my new favorite and totally disagree with with the prior reply@hoptowntiger94. Maybe you should try again later, doubt you will regret it. Or even better, give the entire album a listen. Nicely done Trigger!
January 30, 2018 @ 1:14 pm
This was the first non-metal album I bought since Marty Stewart’s Way out West and have listened to it a few times over. It didn’t grab me like their first album did but that’s probably because I knew what to expect going into it. I definitely enjoyed it though and will go back to it more. It makes me miss a decade ago when all these underground bands were stronger. I also enjoyed the Urban Pioneers new album but that also makes me miss the Broken Band even more with Hunnicutt’s guitar and Jayke’s mandolin beside it.
January 30, 2018 @ 1:25 pm
Man, I love Double Down. I like the sound of these tracks. I’m in.
January 30, 2018 @ 9:56 pm
As much as I hate this place this is why I come back, finding new music to listen to.
January 31, 2018 @ 5:47 am
By “this place” you refer to Saving Country Music?
January 31, 2018 @ 8:39 am
CountryCharm has a special place he goes to in his heart whenever he’s listening to new music.
January 31, 2018 @ 9:49 am
January 30, 2018 @ 11:12 pm
Damn. This is why I visit this site. Never heard of these guys before. After hearing the songs posted l went and llistened to both albums on YouTube. I’m a physical copy guy. If the band is this good I’ll throw my money at them. I went and ordered both albums after only listening for a few minutes. Great short songs that make you want to listen to them over and over again. I must have listened to Shadows fire and yesterday a dozen times. Thanks Trigger
January 31, 2018 @ 5:46 am
Long time passing. Yea, it was a solid effort.
January 31, 2018 @ 12:49 pm
Finally got a chance to check out Double Down. Wow! It really is fantastic.
And it somehow helped me “understand” this album more, too. Iron Mine is like a nice progression of the sound behind Double Down.
Love this music!
January 31, 2018 @ 4:58 pm
Great find! Love the steel guitar, and some of the melodies, but otherwise the vocals aren’t for me.
January 31, 2018 @ 5:37 pm
This album is great. Love the sound of the hard work these guys have put into it. Hasn’t left my car since I got it. Good job guys, can’t wait to see you live again!
January 31, 2018 @ 5:44 pm
Thanks for all of the support over the years and the review! We appreciate ya Trigger! Keep it up! 👊🏼
January 31, 2018 @ 8:15 pm
Eastlyn’s voice reminds me of Riley Downing from The Deslondes. I think I’ve been confusing the Ugly Valley Boys with the Dirty River Boys (who I don’t care for), so I’ve mistakenly been avoiding their music.
February 1, 2018 @ 5:43 am
Image means something, and I can’t get past the complete hipster doofus look.
February 1, 2018 @ 8:20 am
They should consider rebranding. I vote for the dirty- biker look, 70’s genre.
February 1, 2018 @ 2:09 pm
Eh, I’ve got past image a long time ago. It would result in missing out on too much good music. As I noted in a comment above, I’m a metal fan but also blues, jazz, obviously country/roots, etc. I always get a kick out of looking at band photos in metal reviews and I can identify the drummer, guitarists, bassist, and vocalist for your standard 5 piece band 9 out of 10 times. The drummer is always more clean cut and healthy/fit looking (looks like he probably wouldn’t hang out with the rest of the band if they weren’t in a band together). The guitarists are always the two ugliest guys (usually with long hair). Then looking at the bassist and vocalist by process of elimination, the bassist still has a more ‘musician’ look (i.e. long hair, straggly or oppositely, a clean trendy tattooed look).
February 2, 2018 @ 5:27 am
Travis, thank you for that information.
February 3, 2018 @ 12:03 pm
😂 that’s a first! Definitely not our everyday expression. We don’t take ourselves too seriously sometimes 👍
February 3, 2018 @ 1:16 pm
Fair enough…never criticized the music, in fact the singer on Mountain Man sounds a little like Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys, and that definitely makes me happy!
February 1, 2018 @ 8:35 pm
I literally took Double Down out of the CD player for the first time since getting it. May not put it back in because Iron Mine is awesome. Thanks guys for finally getting back to the studio. Do I hear a SoCal tour someday soon?
January 19, 2019 @ 6:03 am
I was given Double Down as a birthday gift from a silver haired ponytailed man in Washington.
Double Down has an original sound. Unlike so much music today under the genre “Country”, leaving the listener to wonder, this leaves no doubt. Can’t count the times I’ve been asked, “I really like this music, who is it?”
I’m wearing that CD out. I need a new one and I will definitely be adding Iron Mine.