Floyd, Va., homebase of The Deer Run Drifters Americana quintet, is a long way from everywhere. Whether you're bound for Richmond, Va., Charlotte, N.C. or Johnson City, Tenn., there'll be hours of driving ahead. But these tiny pockets of the country incubate musical talent by keeping distractions at arm's length. There's time to write a song, pick a guitar,and contemplate last night's bad behavior.
On this debut of a band still in its infancy, we have two sets of brothers and their mutual friend. There's definitely a family affair vibe in the proceedings. Chris Link is the captain of the team, offering up most of the songwriting duties as well as lead vocals. His voice sounds older than his years and has a Ralph Stanleyeque lilt. It's a high register to counteract feeling low.
You could subtitle this record "Sinner's Lament." The characters make bad choices and then more bad ones to help forget. When relationships end, it's not some postmodern suburban fizzle-out. Someone was fired for cause.
The excellent opener, "Sober No More" starts sparse and kicks up the tempo mid-way with fuller acoustic accompaniment. Call it blues, but it's more simple explanation than justification, as to why the singer can't face life without hooch's help. The stunner of these downturn tunes is "Lowlife" - you might laugh at the memorable chorus the first time around. But by the end, the guy who shoots himself down before he even says hello to a barroom queen demands respect - he knows his weaknesses by heart. Can everyone else say the same?
The place the Drifters beg for the listener's slack is in the proficiency of their musicianship. This new unit has not achieved - and possibly don't even want - any kind of Brad Paisley virtuosity. Even mildly accomplished players might say, accurately, that they could jump right in and play along. "Blackberry Wine" has a banjo riff that frequently trades between two notes. "Bump" begins with the same chords as the '50s standard "Duke of Earl." But the uncomplicated musical landscape makes for an excellent counterpoint to the complex lives at stake described in the lyrics.