From western New York, where the rural route meets the rust belt, the blistery north wind brings lake-effect blizzards that curl your toes and cut to the bone, and rock & roll intertwines with redneck music to inspire local kids with little hope of making it otherwise to bust their knuckles putting emotions into hard-edged songs. That’s how you get a blue collar band like Uncle Ben’s Remedy.
Their fourth album now overall, this is one of those affairs where a band stands in front of cued up microphones, and splits themselves open with rusty, serrated knives, pouring their blood and guts out for you—oversharing about broken dreams, personal problems, harrowing tales, and poor decisions. Just as much proud as it is confessional, brutishly tough as it is vulnerable, Uncle Ben’s Remedy has stories to tell and scars to show off, and they shove it all into 11 earnest songs that are both enlightening and entertaining.
Rough and tumble with a sandpaper grit, bits of stomp, blues, bluegrass, and rock all come through this music that is brutally honest with a lot of heart. The life-worn weariness that resonates in the voice of lead singer Ben Lethal Westlund is what sets this outfit off, and makes you believe every word you hear, whether it’s the disillusionment of moving to the big city found in “Paradise,” the quiet sadness and beauty of pursuing the American dream of “Name on His Shirt,” or the broken-hearted wandering of “Virginia.”
The instrumental approach is what makes the sound of Uncle Ben’s Remedy unique. This is not your traditional rhythm, telecaster, and steel and/or fiddle front line. Instead, many of the leads are handled with acoustic tones like resonator guitar from band member Harmony Griffin, though they do bring in a little electric when a song or moment calls for it. This gives the music a naturally rootsy grit and a country appeal, since they’re too proud to put on twangy accents to unnaturally appeal to the country crowd.
Then on top of that, Uncle Ben’s Remedy brings in piano from Shawn Huestis, which adds an emotional element you’re not exactly expecting, but works well to build their distinctive sound, especially when the keys are featured right out front like is done in the title track and final song of the album, which will test the fortitude of the facial muscles to prevail over your tear ducts.
Throw it all together and add some harmonica and steel guitar here and there, and Easy Ways to Hear reminds you a lot of those late aughts underground country albums that still hold up so well, inspired just as much by punk and Pantera as by pure country influences. They even bring some of that same attitude in songs like “Knee High” about growing corn (and a little something else), or the murderous and vengeful “Her and Steve.” These are dispatches from the seedier, underbelly of life.
Still though, it’s the songwriting surprises you at many turns, putting hearts on sleeves, and penning turns of phrase that evoke robust characters in an economy of words. It may place last in a beauty contest and not get played on the radio, but Easy Ways to Hear is just the kind of scummy, yet inspired country many seek out as respite in a plastic world.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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