Moreland & Arbuckle’s Alligator debut is as deep as Delta blues and heavy as thundering rock, as the band continues to wring hard-hitting, modern roots music from traditional forms. Groove-friendly guitar spiced with sledgehammer riffs duels with raucous singing and harp playing, and both barely held in place by propulsive drumming. Even when the throttle is pulled back for a loping folk-tinged ballad or a noir-ish blues worthy of Tom Waits, the band’s intensity and raw emotion shine through. "Raw, dirty, primal and infectious...sizzling guitar, sturdy vocals and rude harmonica" –USA Today
Countless reasons exist to explain the appeal of the music Aaron Moreland and Dustin Arbuckle make. Start with intensity and soulfulness—theirs is the sound of something at stake.
Promised Land Or Bust (a perfect Moreland & Arbuckle title in its suggestion of all-in commitment) extends the rare blend of fury and thoughtfulness they established early on and have since made their template. Consider the opening cut here. “Take Me With You (When You Go)” is immediately gripping, owing to the urgency of Moreland’s opening guitar riff ahead of Arbuckle’s roaring harmonica and drummer Kendall Newby’s righteous thunder. The lyrics speak of wayward angels beckoning and the music is so transportive, so cleansing, as to make the spirit fly. Anyone who’s seen their show knows what that’s like. Check the cover photo triangulating them in the sweaty grip of a revival-like moment onstage. In capturing the band’s live ferocity so vividly, it says far more than words can convey about why they’ve been able to come out of their native Kansas hill country and build a fervent following across the U.S. and in Europe and the U.K. as well.
As this, their first Alligator release, unfolds, it’s clear Aaron and Dustin have made another telling advance. Aaron describes the album as “consciously more traditional than the last two.” Indeed, returning producer Matt Bayles (he of Mastodon fame) has fashioned a robust soundscape featuring the trio’s basic rugged attack hot in the mix, with subtle atmospheric flourishes cropping up courtesy of keyboards, keys and empathetic background vocals all attuned to the material’s emotional content.
However, this album is about more than rich, evocative sound and focused, impassioned music making. It’s very much about songs—songs sans clichés and speaking of meaningful matters in life in ways direct and truthful, even poetic. Those having followed Moreland & Arbuckle’s progress since their 2008 breakthrough album, titled 1861 (marking Kansas’s statehood year), will note a sea change in the storytelling on Promised Land Or Bust. In the course of their career, Aaron and Dustin have been no strangers to tragic tales. They’ve chronicled the human toll war takes even on its survivors (“The Legend,” from 1861, inspired by Dustin’s own father’s Vietnam experience and damaged life thereafter) and composed an ambitious song cycle (central to the album 7 Cities) documenting the greed, lust for power and overweening ambition driving Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in his mid-16th Century quixotic quest for Quivira, one of the mythical seven cities of gold. Now we find many of their characters ultimately experiencing a state of grace arising out of dire or tragic situations in life and love, as exemplified right off the bat in the first two numbers, “Take Me With You (When You Go)” and “Mean And Evil.” Spiritual enlightenment abounds as a theme.
But as they have done throughout their career, Moreland & Arbuckle leaven dark and desperate narratives with outpourings of unadulterated sensual pleasures—they’ve always had a sense of humor about these things. Reflect on the hosannas to a woman who has “bad intentions behind bedroom eyes” in the visceral thrust, if you will, of “When The Lights Are Burning Low.” Indulge in the lowdown, relentless stomp fueling their treatment of Slim Harpo’s delightful ode to male sexual prowess, “I’m A King Bee,” wherein Dustin’s apparent joy in proclaiming “I’m young and able/to buzz all night long/now when you hear me buzzin’, mama/you know some stingin’ goin’ on…” reminds us of a time he might have been arrested for voicing such salacious thoughts in public.
As sophisticated as they can be in the studio, so are they equally raw and visceral on stage. In evolving from being adventurous interpreters of Mississippi-style hill country blues to an original American roots band with an international following, they have not only remained true to their original vision, they’ve actually enriched it. In a 2008 interview centered on the making of the 1861 album, Aaron, reflecting on Moreland & Arbuckle’s early growing pains, said they were finally prepared “to do what we set out to do.” Circa 2016 they’re doing it like they’ve never done it before. On Promised Land Or Bust, the template’s intact as their fascinating evolutionary arc continues apace. The promised land looms.
--David McGee (author, Go, Cat, Go! The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, The King of Rockabilly)
MORELAND & ARBUCKLE - Promised Land or BustSong Notes
1. Take Me With You (When You Go) Our ode to going on a journey, physical, spiritual, or otherwise. Inspired by a series of experiences that may or may not have actually occurred. We had a lot of fun writing and recording this song. The writing process was a little different than usual with Kendall writing the main guitar riff, Aaron and Dustin collaborating on the lyrics, and Aaron contributing the trippy outro. We were able to add some extra layers in the studio that helped transform this from a gritty swamp rocker into a more psychedelic production. It was Bayles' favorite. Can't think of a better tune to kick off the album.
2. Mean And Evil There are people in this world so bad that even the Devil himself wants nothing to do with them. The heavy, menacing cigar-box guitar riff called for lyrics about someone or something evil, so the song all but wrote itself and came out as a bit of a modern bad-man ballad. As one of the first songs written for this album, Mean And Evil got a lot of road-testing. It quickly found a place in the set as one of our favorite ass-stompers.
3. Hannah Our buddy Mike Hosty, from Norman, OK is one of the most talented musicians and songwriters we've ever met. His band, Hosty Duo, has been a fixture on the live music scene in our region for nearly 20 years and we've been lucky enough to split some great shows with them. Given our affinity for recording our friends' songs, it's a small miracle that it took us so long to cover one of Hosty's. We were listening to their "II" album on the road one day, and Hannah (aka "Blues Song" in the Hosty catalog) really stuck out as a tune we could nail. The heavy, pounding rhythm and murder ballad lyrics were right in our wheelhouse and the hook was infectious. Our version got the stoner-rock treatment and is even more heavy and sludgy than the original.
4. When the Lights are Burning Low This is our unapologetically dumb rock & roll song about a sexy lady. Aaron brought the dirty guitar riff into rehearsal and the tune came to life very quickly. The vibe of the song really screamed for lyrics in tribute to one who drives you crazy in all the right AND wrong ways. Always a fun song to play live. The energy that gets generated on the big crescendo to the end always makes this tune one of the highlights of the night, especially when we have a great, rockin' crowd.
5. Woman Down in Arkansas This shuffle, penned by our fellow Kansan, Lee McBee has been a staple of our live set for years. An outstanding blues singer and harmonica player, Lee fronted the Dallas-based outfit Mike Morgan and the Crawl during their hey-day in the late 1980s and early 90s. He was one of Dustin's biggest musical influences in addition to being a dear friend. We had long considered recording this tune and figured that when we did, Lee would make a guest appearance. Sadly, we never got the chance, as Lee passed away suddenly in June, 2014. Instead of a collaboration, this became a tribute, though Lee was unquestionably there with us in the studio.
6. Mount Comfort Inspired by the people we've all known who, for one reason or another, decide to withdraw from the outside world in search of a comfort zone, only to later find themselves grappling with loneliness and depression. The lyrics and vocal melody actually came first with this song, which is rare for us. It all rolled around in Dustin's head for months before we got a chance to develop the tune. The vocals set the tone for a mellow, groovy, southern rock ballad. Once we added the more powerful chorus and solos, it all came together and we felt like we had something special.
7. Long Did I Hide It Another song from a friend. We've known Ryan Taylor and have split shows with his bands for over a decade. He's been sending us great songs for almost as long. This one worked perfectly for us. We were struck by the slide lick and upbeat rhythm that seemed to contrast so starkly from the dark, sorrowful lyrics. It feels like an old country blues/gospel song, and Aaron's Mississippi Fred McDowell influenced treatment of the guitar part just helps to complete that vibe.
8. Waco Avenue This started as a brief jam at rehearsal that was recorded and then forgotten as we got occupied with other tunes. Months later we rediscovered the recording and realized we had the beginnings of a beautiful song. The lyrics came from memories of very cool, but run-down old house and neighborhood in which Dustin lived several years back. Living there coincided with the time that we first started to have some success outside of our local scene, so it was a pretty special time in ourlives. We've haven't written many songs like this before. Our music tendsto be pretty rough and tumble, while Waco Ave is on the dreamy side. Maybe that's why it's one of our favorites.
9. I'm a King Bee Slim Harpo's classic boast of sexual prowess, King Bee is truly one of the quintessential Louisiana swamp blues songs. Occasionally we'll have a long night at a random bar gig and just decide to see if we can pull off a reasonable version of some old tune that we dig. That's how we started playing this song and it was so much fun that it became a fixture in the set. When we were discussing potential songs for this album, we realized that we hadn't recorded a good ol', hard-driving shuffle in a very long time. It didn't take long for us to decide that King Bee was the perfect candidate.
10. Long Way Home Life is all about choices. This simple, driving rocker is all about what can happen when you make too many of the wrong ones. Written over 10 years ago, it was one of our signature originals in the early years. As we evolved musically and wrote more, it sort of rotated out of the set list. Luckily it always stayed in the back of our minds. When we decided tobring Long Way Home back, it was almost like we had never stopped playing it.
11. Why'd She Have To Go (And Let Me Down) Ryan Taylor's second contribution to the record turned out to be a great closer. We loved the story, the hook, and the sexy groove, but what made this song so appealing was that it represented new ground for us. It is certainly the closest thing to a jazz tune that we have ever recorded. It allowed us all to explore a different approach to our individual performances, which is challenging in many ways, but also a lot of fun. We've always liked to end our albums with something different, so in that spirit, we knew this had to be our parting shot.
The band would like to thank: All of our family and friends for their continuous love and support, Julie, Gabe, Grayson, Michelle, Uncle Larry, Duane, Ewa, Blue Mountain Artists, Andrzej, Matt Bayles, Gavin Peters, Amber, Barleycorn’s, Joe Spiers, David Barnes, Uhlik Music, Chris Fry, Bruce Iglauer and everyone at Alligator, Bob Olhsson, Lonny Quattlebaum and Eric Zoller.
Special thanks to these Kickstarter Backers! Ron Starkel, Stephanie Baum, Gregory Bailiff, Patrick Joynson, John Otting, Sal Tine, Melvyn Cansell, Stacy Jeffress, Aaron Markwell, Randall Newby, Alyson Hell, Brian LaPrade, Christopher Newby and Brian Gordon.