Thursday, March 24, 2011

Album Review: The Roys - Lonesome Whistle

Lonesome Whistle, The Roys' first album release for Rural Rhythm records, chugs out of the station this week.  On this charming 11-track set, siblings Lee and Elaine Roy pour their voices into a set of beautifully written songs about the values they cherish.  But the sentiments don't come in the form of the hollow cliches that plague the music of mainstream country radio.  Each track fleshes out its theme with a well-defined narrative while Lee and Elaine deliver the verses in tight harmonies that ring with sincerity.

There are moments when Lonesome Whistle touches on religious themes, but it does so without sounding arrogant or preachy.  A trio of Lee and Elaine's musical heroes - Ricky Skaggs, Sharon and Cheryl White - lend their voices to the track "That's What Makes It Love," which describes examples of love demonstrated in action, and points to Christ's sacrifice as the ultimate example.  Another highlight is "I Wonder What God's Thinking," which is a man's reflections on what effect mankind's follies must have on his Creator.  With images of poverty and genocide leading in to questions such as "When the rain falls from heaven, is it the tears from His eyes/ Is an angry clap of thunder His voice crying why," the sad lyrics carry a heavy weight of poignancy.  In "Give a Ride to the Devil," a man reflects on his youth and relates experiences that have taught him the importance of resisting temptation.  The song features a memorable hook of "If you give a ride to the devil/ Someday he's gonna wanna drive."

In addition to the reflective moments, Lonesome Whistle also includes a fair share of fun banjo-laced barn burners such as the lighthearted love tale "My Oh My How Time Flies."  A sprightly tempo and upbeat melody belie dark and forlorn lyrics on "Nothin' I Can Do About It Now," as the narrator weeps over his helplessness in stopping his woman from leaving him on a train out of town.  In a similar vein, the title track tells of a woman who says goodbye to her man as she leaves on a train to go to war.  When he later takes his "last ride," his memory is forever linked with the sound of that "Lonesome Whistle."

One track that doesn't quite measure up to the standard of the rest of the album is the woman's anthem "Trailblazer."  Lyrics such as "Her restless spirit leads the way/ It's time to take that leap of faith/ Chasing dreams that just won't wait" aren't particularly interesting, to say the least.  But the track's primary weakness is that fails to place its character in a lifelike setting, and doesn't bring her down to a believable, relatable, human level.  Instead, she seems like a vague and unfathomable figure.

Fortunately, that one weaker moment is dwarfed in comparison with the solid songwriting that dominates the album.  The album succeeds on a sonic level as well, with producers Andy Leftwich and The Roys themselves backing the performances with delightful bluegrass instrumentation (including Leftwich on fiddle, Mark Fain on bass, Randy Kohrs on dobro, and Cody Kilby on acoustic guitar).  Overall, the album is full of great songs and strong performances, making The Roys debut on Rural Rhythm Records an impressive one indeed.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)