Loose Cattle/Heavy Lifting/Low Heat Records
Four out of Five Stars
Michael Cerveris is certainly no novice. A Tony and Grammy Award winner, he partners with an equally accomplished performer Kimberly Kaye in a band they’ve dubbed Loose Cattle. The two boast a combined ten year tenure, and their new effort, Heavy Lifting, boasts a sound soaked in a gritty rootsy firmament, encompassing all the tenuous trappings that generally add up to a legitimate heartland sound.
That makes Heavy Lifting a riveting effort from start to conclusion, one that runs the gamut from delirious duets like Buddy and Julie Miller’s tempestuous “Gasoline and Matches,” given an added lift courtesy of Rurik Nunan’s striking and strident fiddle play, to the somber set up of album opener and Vic Chesnutt cover “Aunt Avis.” The rugged designs of “Tenth Grade” further affirm the group’s commitment to a solid, stoic approach, given the added embellishment of the quintet’s solid delivery and unapologetic attitude. Bassist Rene Coman and drummer Doug Garrison provide the sturdy foundation these songs call for, but when the group settle into moments of rare respite, as witnessed on the reflective ballads “Filling Space,” “Down” and “West Virginia,” there’s a pensive perspective that becomes moving and memorable all its own.
For her part, Kaye is a versatile vocalist, having cut her teeth both in a ska band and on the legitimate musical theater stage. She’s an excellent foil for Cerveris’ more gruff demeanor, and when he adapts that edgy attitude for the barnstorming boogie found in an otherwise unvarnished offering like “Sidewalk Chicken,” the rowdy and robust “Redneck Blue Collar” or the Johnny and June-style duets “Get Downtown” and “He’s Old, She’s High,” the results take on a decidedly distinct dynamic. This well-rounded outfit are clearly adept at taking off in any number of different directions, while pursuing each through equal aplomb. Likewise, the track that rounds it all out, “F*ck You Jolene”—an irascible rebuke to the home-wrecker name-checked in the Dolly Parton standard—shows that they’re well capable of shoving a middle finger in the face of anyone that gives them reason for revenge. That’s true heavy lifting indeed.