The best in Americana music carries a quality that is hard to define but distinctly familiar. The latest album by the western Massachusetts band, Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, Band Together, carries a melting pot of country, rhythm & blues, soul, folk, rock and gospel as it successfully hits the pulse of what makes American roots music universally appealing. It is a musical celebration that encourages a sense of celebration and renewal amidst the common struggles of life.
Produced by Johnny Irion- a singer-songwriter and grandnephew of the great American writer John Steinbeck & son-in-law of folk icon Arlo Guthrie, this ten-song collection rings with a fresh Phil Spector-driven Wall-of-Sound production. Irion also plays piano and guitar on the sessions. There is additional support from Pat Sansone of Wilco and Steve Gorman of The Black Crowes.
The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow members, Tory Hanna, Billy Keane, David Tanklefsky, Greg Smith and Chris Merenda, are successful solo artists who came together five years ago as a collaborative band based on the age-old premise that there is strength in numbers, especially when this much talent is involved. Each member brings their best material to the cycle of song assembled here. The results lend credence to the title, Band Together. This is not just a songwriter’s showcase, but a band of musicians who have worked out a unifying sound and a songwriting process that is truly collective contained within their singular talents.
Throughout the proceedings each artist takes the lead as the band plays on with resolve and celebration. There’s a sense that this string-band collective has hit new peaks in their creativity. Although the album includes beautifully developed arrangements anchored by an original and imaginative sonic landscape, the fundamental strength is the well-crafted, inspired songwriting. Each artist shares the spotlight as front-man on their songs with support from the rest of the band.
There is a distinctive musical chemistry on each track. Tory Hanna’s topical song “Don’t Cross My Land,” captures in his narrative the outraged feeling of violation in the protest at Standing Rock by the native American tribes as they stand up against the invasion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The performance burns with a blues-rock stomp, raging lead guitar and a howling harmonica from Arlo Guthrie.
Billy Keane’s “Hey Lady” honors the Woman’s March in New York City, when they marched in response to the misogyny demonstrated by the Trump Administration since the 2016 election. It is a song of love, encouragement and solidarity captured in this well-produced rock anthem.
“Reasons” by David Tanklefsky is a simple love song with a straightforward stripped down arrangement. It speaks to the insecure and humorous underbelly of romance in a tale of a one-nightstand that seems doomed to fail. The song works so well because the writer takes a topic that often brings on frustration or sadness and instead infuses it with lightheartedness.
Greg Smith’s “Rock n’ Roll Deja Vu” is an appealing pop-rock song that remembers a time when there was rock ‘n’ roll playing on the radio. With playful horn support from Hanna, and a danceable acoustic rhythm underpinning the proceedings, Smith’s vocal is as soulful as the universality of the theme.
Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and veteran of the road with Arlo Guthrie’s band, Chris Merenda gives “Perfect Day,” a sense of good timing energy. It’s a burst of first love that brings the singer to the song as he captures all his lady’s love on this ‘perfect day.’ Complete with a rock & roll banjo, an electric fuzztone lead and a stomping, boot-kicking good-time beat, the song is a reminder of how good life and love can be.
Every song on Band Together is an equal gem to the collection of this unique band of songwriters. This album is a reminder of what can happen when great talent comes together with a vision as they set aside ego center themselves on the creative energy that good music can bring.