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Hard Working Americans

Hard Working Americans – 2014 (Melvin)

Reviewed by Andy Turner

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For "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," there's Jimmy Buffet and Alan Jackson. For just "It's Five O'Clock," there's the Hard Working Americans. With Todd Snider on lead vocals, the this-ain't-our-first-rodeo band also features drummer Duane Trucks (Col. Bruce Hampton), guitarist Neal Casal (Ryan Adams' Cardinals, Chris Robinson Brotherhood), bassist Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) and keyboardist Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi). The group takes on 11 perfectly chosen covers of songs by the likes of the Bottle Rockets, Will Kimbrough, Kevin Gordon and Drivin' N Cryin' that are tied together loosely by a sort of blue-collar theme.

With the caliber of musicians involved, and Snider's distinctly ragged and laid back vocals, the album avoids coming off like a "really good!" Sirius Outlaw Country set with a Kimbrough slant (two of his songs are here). The arrangements and interpretations are done well and are interesting throughout.

Drivin' N Cryin's "Straight to Hell" gets slowed down quite a bit, the sing-along nature of song taken away, and yet the band still gets everything out of it. "Stomp and Holler," a Hayes Carll nugget, is a perfect fit for the band and a highlight, but the guitar work on "Welfare Music" is too jam-band smooth and dilutes the impact of the original. The opener, "Blackland Farmer," the oldest of the songs here, offers a cool gospel groove that updates it nicely. The grinding guitars and Snider's soulful vocals ramp up the danger in BR549's "Run a Mile," another standout. Snider's terrific versatility as vocalist shines through on the closer, a run through Gillian Welch's classic "Wrecking Ball."

Cue this one up at quitting time, and you can't lose.