Album Review – Ugly Valley Boys “Double Down”
I first met upright bassist Braxton Brandenburg from the two-piece Ugly Valley Boys when he was touring with JB Beverley through Texas in December, and then saw him again with JB at The Muddy Roots Festival, when he handed me this CD from his “other band.” Yeah, everyone is in a band these days, and most have “other bands” as well, and they all have well-intentioned, but not always good CD’s to peddle. Braxton seemed like a great guy, but when I looked at this album, with yet another standup bass, yet another guitar player who sits down at a bass drum in a band that has “Valley” and “Boys” in the name I thought, “Yep, I’ve heard this before.”
And then when the album started off with a track about running moonshine, the pigeon-holing was just about complete. That’s when the song “Raven” hit my ears, and the genius behind the Ugly Valley Boys revealed itself, separating them far from the herd.
From Salt Lake City, The Ugly Valley Boys evoke the lonesome sound of the desert, the classic soul of country, and the open space of the West in original songs that are wickedly engaging and smartly crafted. So many bands try to imbibe their music with a vintage feel and Western space by using copious amounts of chorus or reverb, or blowing wads of cash on vintage gear. Ugly Valley’s guitar player, singer, and songwriter Ryan Eastlyn takes the road less traveled with the use of moaning, melodic chorus lines that are so excellent, they vault this band from a relative unknown to one responsible for one of the better albums put out so far in 2011.
The melodic chorus-driven songs with punk undertones are counterbalanced by dark and gritty deep roots songs that could be considered just as much blues as country. As impressed as I am by Eateryn’s ear in crafting the vocals in these songs, without any message or meaning behind the lyrics, the experience would be shallow. The Ugly Valley Boys pull you in with Braxton’s engaging rhythm and Ryan’s voice, but what keeps you engaged is the soul embedded in the songwriting.
I could break down each song on this album, but I don’t see the point. There’s not a bad song here. At the moment, the track that most impresses me is “Alota Guns”, but this album shows all the earmarks of one whose best track changes by week, until every song has filled that slot and after a couple of months you look down and this CD is still stuck in the player.
The instrumentation is great as well, from Ryan and Braxton, and also from Mike Sasich and Brad Wheeler who they brought in to play some tasteful lead lines on various tracks. If I had a suggestion for the Ugly Valley Boys, it would be that there could be more breadth to the music. The stripped down approach is appreciated, but this music is just too good to be devoid of maybe another layer or two of instrumentation, at least in the recorded setting. The lead instruments in Double Down, though great, seem to be add-ons at times instead of intermixed with the rest of the music.
But the thing about great songwriting is that it trumps all. Any concerns about instrumentation or lineups or names of bands are all put to rest simply by songs that speak to the heart in universal themes, and that is exactly what The Ugly Valley Boys do. I was going to give this album 1 3/4 of the maximum 2 guns that I have the authority to afford an album, because I do think Double Down leaves some room for improvement, but in the end this album is just too good, has too many good individual songs to call it anything but great.
Two guns up!
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Ugly Valley Boys are now working with Farmageddon Records, and physical copies of Double Down can be ordered at www.newrootsorder.com.
October 9, 2011 @ 9:45 am
I listened to that album 8 times straight when I first got it, and I’ve still be listening to it on a regular basis. Easily my favorite album this year. Great review Trig; I hope this brings some more attention to these guys, they deserve it.
October 9, 2011 @ 12:54 pm
I have had this album since July and it has a main stay in my player ever since. These guys definately deserve the 2 guns up review.
October 9, 2011 @ 3:50 pm
39-40 seconds of a song is hard to decipher, but the Devil and a dispirited theme seems to encompass Double Down and could thwart the listener’s mood. I don’t always want to feel vexed at the reverence of a darkened life. And nothing really jumped out at me other than maybe Double Track but when it called the Bible a book of lies, I tuned out.
October 10, 2011 @ 8:42 pm
Denise..”black book of lies” is not a reference to the bible. Thanks, Ryan Eastlyn -ugly valley boys-
October 9, 2011 @ 5:04 pm
all those songs speak of the truth and put me in a great mood, kind of a strange comment Denise, maybe you need to listen to the full album. Devil and dispirited theme??? I dont think so!!
Buy this album!! my fav of the year for sure!!!
October 10, 2011 @ 8:46 am
After reading this I picked up the album and I am not disapointed. I can’t stop listening. This is definitely album of the year material and you could pretty much take your pick for song of the year. I really can’t overstate how good this album is. I just hope they continue to put out quality music like this. Thanks for bringing these guys to my attention.
October 10, 2011 @ 6:19 pm
Wonderful review of a wonderful CD. I completely agree with the reviewer’s experience of being blown away by “Raven”. It’s a beautiful song that would be right at home on a Willie Nelson or Jayhawks or Bob Dylan album. It’s that good. Or should I say they’re that good. Here’s hoping the Ugly Valley Boys keep on doing what they do.
October 10, 2011 @ 10:32 pm
I strongly agree with the review of this album. The soul of the writing and melodies are clean and pure, absolutely the antithesis of anything dark or evil. I feel the spirit of a Man who has truly lived, loved, lost, felt pain,and gained insight to his heart. The deep understanding of the human condition is what makes the album and its sentiment a license to go out and actually live, and experience all that life has to offer…Good, bad, Ugly, and everything in between. Thank you for creating something that will stand the test of time.
August 17, 2019 @ 1:24 pm
Perceptive comments, Rebecca. Thanks.
I will say up front that songs evoking images of the Sonoran desert, it’s mystery, and by implication a man’s, grab me by the throat. I first heard The Boys while on my deck sanding – tunes in the background, Clickety-Clack came on and all sanding went off. I had to sit down and soak up the rest.
The reviewer above suggested adding a layer or two of instrumentation. I see his point, knowing that the Ugly ethic would employ said layers in a way that would serve the song.
I appreciate “good songwriting trumps all”. On a whimsical note, I sure do get a kick out of Braxton’s vocal interjections.
These guys are just downright cool. Did I say how much I love Ryan’s true grit vocals?
Honest Charlie's Productions/Misfit Radio
October 11, 2011 @ 6:52 pm
Ill be sure to get my hands on this album. From what I can hear I really like the sound. I’d hope they will be touring if they aren’t already..
October 12, 2011 @ 7:42 pm
These boys won’t be unknown for long! I saw these guys rock-out right through a wind storm on the Bonneville Salt Flats. They put on one helluva show for the late crowd at speed week. I picked up a CD afterwards and it hasn’t left my truck. I don’t know how far the Ugly Valley Boys will go, but it’s about time folks that enjoy good ol’ traditional music start supporting small bands like them. No corporate label is telling these boys how to play. Songwriting and sound this authentic can’t be ignored. Album of the year in my book!
Thanks for exposing these guys!
October 13, 2011 @ 9:07 am
Saw these guys open for .357 String Band in SLC a while back, and was thoroughly impressed.
October 13, 2011 @ 2:08 pm
No joke, probably the best roots, traditional, whatever you want to call it album of the year. You would be doing yourself a great disservice if you are a fan of this type of music and don’t purchase it.
October 13, 2011 @ 9:34 pm
No need to try and fit these boys into a category. Its just plain good music — heartfelt sincere and listenable. Love the track Yesterday. Do yourself an favor and make sure you have this album.
December 15, 2011 @ 7:31 am
I received my copy of Double Down from the fine folks at Farmageddon Records 6 months ago. Fell in love with it one might say. I honestly play my guitar & listen to this cd Everyday! The recording is just perfect and I feel needs no other “instrumental layering” or else it would just sound too overdone in my opinion.
The lyrics are genius, vocals spot on & nothing beats the sound of the slap of an upright! Not to mention those fellas are rather nice to look at too;)
Thanks to Ryan Eastlyn & Braxton Brandenburg (Mike Sasich/guitar & Brad Wheeler/lap steel) for making such a stellar album!!
http://www.newrootsorder.com – order yours Today!