Banditos: Visionland

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

If album number two from Nashville sextet the Banditos was a carbon copy of their well-received debut, it would have painted the band into a Southern rock corner. Certainly, the collective’s revved up/boogie down, two-guitar with banjo attack could have been milked for another disc (or more) without audiences complaining.

To their credit, the Banditos tug at their self-imposed boundaries on this sophomore release, without abandoning the rust-colored dirt under their collective collars. The group’s impressive debut hinted at jazzy/soulful elements, mostly featuring the throaty Bonnie Bramlett-styled vocals of Mary Beth Richardson, along with threads of country, honky tonk and gospel.

Bursting out with the hot-blooded rocker “Fine Fine Day” shows the Banditos at its Skynyrd-loving, swamp-rocking best. Also entertaining is the laconic lope and lusty lyrics of the standard issue “Fun All Night,” featuring a mercifully short kazoo solo. But there’s a clear intention to infuse subtlety along with the dynamics and creative arrangements. That’s especially true on the title track which rolls in on a breezy, bluesy, folksy vibe infused with a psychedelic electric guitar howl.

There’s a retro country/pop vibe pulsating through tracks like “Lonely Boy” which combines melodic garage rock with an elusive country slant.  The latter is due to Stephen Alan Pierce’s banjo, a key ingredient in the Banditos’ sound. And when Richardson digs into “Strange Heart,” she transforms from noir diva to the ghost of Janis Joplin, all within four minutes.

But it’s the textured restraint on rockers like the closing “DDT,” which unexpectedly changing tempos mid-track, that shows the group’s maturation in their performance and songwriting chops. It indicates a leap forward in the Banditos’ artistic evolution and the potential to expand their sound even further in the future.