I’LL BE THERE TOMORROW by
THE SUMNER BROTHERS
2012 – Self Released
This is the Sumner Brothers fourth album release with all four being terrific, even though two of them ‘In the garage’ and ‘In the garage 2’ consisted of bits and pieces they had recorded at various locations over a considerable period of time. Those two have to be included simply because of their excellence and the fact that they are both albums that can stand alone, in fact in 2010 I gave ‘In the garage 2’ a four and a half star rating, such was the quality of those ‘bits and pieces’!
On this album alone there is a huge diversity of styles, not just in an experimental and certainly not in a copyist way; they actually take on and wear convincingly the mantle of just about any of the various offshoots of roots music that they choose. Each song has a power that gives it the feel of being played by a band who are steeped in that style, having never played anything else in their lives, in fact i can’t think of any other band that plays these edgy diverse styles of roots music with such authenticity and conviction. Of course, it is also a huge bonus to have two vocalists so perfectly suited to the music and somehow I feel there is very little, if anything, in roots music from country to blues that that they cannot master and be supreme at, unless of course, you want bland melodocism!
The playing is always excellent with the additional band members and backup musicians obviously fully attuned to the way the brothers minds were working on what they wanted to achieve with this recording. The full lineup is Brian Sumner, vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica, clarinet, chord organ, Rhodes, Solina synthesizer, Bob Sumner on vocals and guitar, Mike Ardagh, drums and percussion and James Meger on Bass. The engineer and producer is Derek Difilippo who also
plays bass and banjo on When you dig my grave, percussion and Rhodes on You will find me, with Bill Patton (who also played on Fleet Foxes last record) on pedal steel and Andrew Peebles, percussion on The lord is my protector. I’ve mentioned virtually everyone involved for the
simple reason that each added sensitively to the power of the recording. Songwriting credits are five by Bob and three by Brian, with each handling vocals on their own songs, plus a simply stunning version of Townes Van Zandts Colorado Girl and a decent version of Arthur Crudups That’s Alright.
The album opens with Toughest Man in Prison Camp, proof, were it ever needed, that they’re not just a pair of throwbacks to the old timey era, with this hard rock song played with a tremendous ferocity and drive that few can match.There are crashing drums, ferocious guitars and Brian’s tormented, grungy vocals! Anyone listening to just this excellent piece of raw but melodic rock would be ill prepared for what follows. What does follow is courtesy of Bob’s pen and vocals, Going Out West, on which we go back to the ‘holler’ for a beautifully evocative tale that not only has the banjo to give it an ‘old timey’ feel but a beautiful steel guitar that brings the song up to date and gives it the unique hugely evocative Sumner Brothers atmosphere. It is a hauntingly edgy tale of a man who has to leave his family for a long spell to go off and ‘do what a man’s gotta do.’ We never know exactly what it is he has to do but this just serves to increase the power and the mystery as he tells his son of his intentions. These two tracks are about as big a contradiction as music has to offer but both are totally convincing in their mastery of the genres. The song that immediately follows is a simply stunning version of Colorado Girl, with it’s strummed acoustic guitar pushing this beautifully moody and powerful love song along at a snails pace that gradually builds in intensity and power. The late great Townes Van Zandt who wrote the song would without a doubt have approved of this haunting version of his work. And this is how the album continues, one excellent song after another, even at the end including an unusual instrumental, I Would Love You In The Kitchen, with it’s slow deep twangy guitar and chord organ giving it a nice mellow ambient feel. I’ll just mention a couple of other
songs that help to express the diversity of this extraordinary album, the first being Lay You In The Grave, probably best described as a blend of pure country and western with the edginess of modern alt. country. It’s Beautifully played, with excellent instrumentation and the usual emotive vocals and with lovely harmonies added courtesy of Michelle Scott plus the haunting steel guitar on a story of someone considering his slightly cynical attitude towards love! The Lord Is My Protector has a gorgeous steel guitar giving a haunting atmosphere, whilst the vocals almost take you into Clark, Springsteen or even Cash territory. It has a beautiful poignancy that tells the tale of someone trapped in a dead end job, reflecting on his life and with suicidal intentions! When You Dig My Grave is certainly not a comedy song but there is an element of tongue in cheek on this banjo led and mournfully atmospheric backwoods deep blues tale about delaying the end of life for a very, very long
It took me an age to decide how many stars to award this album with. On first listen I had four stars in mind but then with each subsequent listening session it went up another notch. Despite
giving a few albums five stars I don’t particularly like doing so, simply because this is an intimation that you judge it to be perfect and nothing is! This album has it’s flaws, but the feeling, originality and breadth and scope, allied to the quality of writing, performing and above all, those hugely evocative vocals put the album virtually in a class of it’s own. There are even one or two things I’m not particularly keen on but overall this is a truly great album, that, as with it’s predecessors I will be revisiting for many years to come. It will be fascinating to hear how they can possibly follow this, but such is their talent, I have no doubt they will. I’m really looking forward to hearing a better album this year, but can’t see it happening!