Waylon Speed Play Their High-Voltage Americana At a Rare Intimate Show
Waylon Speed do interesting and original things with old ideas from south of the Mason-Dixon line, from highway rock to hard honkytonk to Molly Hatchet. And they personify the dilemma facing so many nationally touring bands when it comes to playing here. They make their living on the road at decently midsize venues like Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, Kung Fu Necktie in Philly, the works. Where are they playing in New York on Dec 12 at 11 PM? Bowery Ballroom? The Bell House? Nope. The Rockwood – not even the big room there, but the little one. Which should at least make for an intimate show for the exuberant Vermont quartet. In fact, if Dub Trio hadn’t done a residency there awhile back, it would be safe to say that Waylon Speed would definitely be the loudest group ever to play that little space. Rockwood peeps, you have been warned.
The band’s latest album, Kin, is streaming at Spotify – if you’d rather avoid the hassle of flipping the volume down for the between-song ads, a lot of it is up at the band’s webpage and also at soundcloud. Americana guitar maven Mark Spencer – of the late great Blood Oranges – produced, giving it a warm, analog feel and purist values: Chad Hammaker and Kelly Ravin’s guitars and vocals front and center, Noah and Justin Crowther’s bass and drums in back where they belong. It sounds more like it was fueled by Maker’s and good hydro than by Caldwell’s (it’s a Vermont thing) and dirtweed.
The opening track, Coming Down Again – an original, not the Stones obscurity – is a twangy country tune fueled by some sweet slide guitar. The album’s title track reaches for a funky sway with Skynyrd tropes like sludgy bluesmetal and wry wah riffage, and a stampede to the finish line. Smooth the Grain juxtaposes hotrod baritone guitar and honking harmonica over a twangy shuffle that wouldn’t be out of place in the Wayne Hancock catalog.
“There’s a ghost in the corner blowing smoke in my face,” Hammaker complain on the similarly shuffling Until It All Ends, “Take your grain of salt and rub it in your wounds.” On a Wire, like the janglier songs here, recalls New York’s long-running, consistently excellent highway rockers the Sloe Guns. Tally-Ho puts a scrambling Buck Owens edge on early alt-country, like a less punk Uncle Tupelo. And you might think that a mashup of 70s redneck rock and Blue Oyster Cult might be a complete mess, but Shakin’ proves it’s possible to pull off.
In Your Mind, the most straight-up rock tune here, has a stomping beat and winds up with a long, searing metal guitar solo. “It looks like you’ve been ashing on your dashboard…you wake in the asscrack of noon,” Hammaker relates casually on the twangy, steel guitar-fueled kiss-off anthem Days Remain the Same. They take a detour toward garage rock with Union and close out on a counterintuitive note with with the slow, brooding ballad Demons.