By Avery Galek
Dan Johnson’s warm somber voice complements his band, The Expert Sidemen, with the trickling of banjo finger picking, layered with sweeping brushes upon a snare drum. Their October release Sleep on the Way proves to be an anachronistic cry for the golden years of country and bluegrass. Yet, electrified stepping stones of slide guitar and blues riffs, tinged with reverb, keep the compilation in contemporary standings.
Reminiscent of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, the seven-track album promotes a new age of mellow melancholy with the familiar twang of a sustained string bend. “State Line Blues” begins the album with nontraditional uses of rhythm for country music. The abrasive banjo tremolo and backdrop of prolonged subtle accordion harmony may leave a listener a bit confused; even more so as the song ends with a reggae-style upstroke.
Just a few songs in, “Fredericksburg” proves to be an upbeat tune worthy of being a single. Its melody can be addictively catchy, conjuring feel-good head bobs. Taking a different direction, the use of syncopation is used to stir up a meandering into indie-folk, laced with bright guitar licks, only emphasizing a happy harmony. Dan Johnson and The Expert Sidemen’s Arlo Guthrie-esque story telling brings zydeco-influenced tracks such as “Baton Rouge” to life. Their roots often bleed through their music, but blends well, expressing a mesh of genres quick to satisfy the hunger of halcyon days.
Key Tracks: State Line Blues, Fredericksburg, and Baton Rouge.
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