Central Vermont honky-tonk country band The Stone Cold Roosters, a pet project of versatile acoustic musician, producer and composer Colin McCaffrey, is a deck full of aces. Their second CD release, Anywhere West, showcases the undeniable and varied skills of each of the outfit’s six members — seven, counting guest keyboardist Chuck Eller. And, most notably, it highlights their impressive talents as veteran performers and songwriters.
With the exception of a sweet cover of Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain,” all of the songs are originals penned by band members. The musical bill of fare ranges from guitarist Ted Mortimer’s Commander Cody-esque “One Bad Habit” to drummer and guitarist Roy Cutler’s mournful love ballad “Scattered.”
Thal Aylward and McCaffrey both play fiddle on the CD, and Jim Pitman shines on slide. Casey Dennis provides solid bass throughout, while Eller adds piano and some Hammond B3 on three tracks. McCaffrey’s experience as a sound engineer and mix master ties each of the performances together, resulting in a sound that is smooth and seamless. In particular, one of the recording’s many pleasures is the rare chance to hear central Vermont slide master Pitman working that steel guitar throughout the album. Like Dobro king Jerry Douglas, Pitman seems to find soaring and tasteful lines every time he surfaces on a recording. His playing is never dominating, but it is always gorgeous.
Generally speaking, the Roosters’ sound lacks the rough edge and grit that can be found in the music of other venerable Vermont bar bands, such as Starline Rhythm Boys and The Oleo Romeos. But they more than make up for it with raw talent and solid playing. These guys have well over 100 years worth of bar gigs under their belts among them. And as a testament to their veteran chops — and McCaffrey’s deft production — it sounds that way.
When the band manages to break free from McCaffrey’s soft-country Nashville tendencies, they really start to roll. In particular, McCaffrey’s “Having a Ball” epitomizes everything that is great about the Roosters: chicken-pickin’ Fender guitars, driving fiddle and steel lines, and a catchy beat. This is music for bellying up to the bar. And, given how gosh-darned clean the album is, I doubt you’d even dirty your embroidered white cowboy shirt doin’ it!