(Crown On Ten, CD, digital Download)
On their first two releases, local rockers Waylon Speed searched for identity. Their 2010 debut, Georgia Overdrive, while a roundly solid record, found the band struggling to distinguish itself from Chuch, the popular, Burlington-based “speedwestern” act that presaged them, while simultaneously integrating Kelly Ravin as songwriter and vocalist into the fold. Their sophomore attempt, 2011’s Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, plumbed that identity crisis further and far more overtly. Rather than meld the band’s two clearest influences — as was done on Overdrive — the double album extracted and separated those opposing touchstones. Horseshoes offered twang-laden hillbilly rock; Hand Grenades, leather-clad, instrumental metal.
Released late last year, Waylon Speed’s newest effort, The Boots EP, suggests the band has taken great strides toward honing and defining its sound. Though short and sweet — four songs and 16 minutes — the EP reveals a band finally comfortable in its own skin, as it were, and in full command of its blue-collar heart and poet’s soul.
From the outset, the EP simply feels different, more focused and self-assured. On “Degrade,” Chad Hammaker and Ravin’s guitars bristle with simmering alt-country heat, while drummer Justin Crowther lays a backbeat in smoky lockstep with bassist, and brother, Noah Crowther.
The band has never lacked musical cohesiveness, as Waylon Speed or any earlier incarnations. What’s immediately notable here is the conviction in Ravin’s delivery. Previously, his elegant, earnest style seemed at odds with Waylon’s rebel rockabilly and co-front man Noah Crowther’s generally more irreverent tack. But they’ve found common ground. Ravin retains his observational sensitivity but turns his musings into a ragged rumination on failing character.
Ravin also takes the lead on the following cut, “Meet Me in the Middle.” Again, his reedy tenor and light drawl perfectly highlight the band’s unruly complexion. Not unlike a young Ryan Adams in his Whiskeytown days, there is brash urgency and attitude here.
Noah Crowther has likewise refined his style. Songwriting credits are given to the band as a whole, but he and Ravin complement one another with newfound nuance. On “Tragedy,” Crowther’s purposeful and direct delivery imparts a similar sense of recklessness and foreboding as Ravin does on “Degrade” — though their approaches are sonically dissimilar. On rowdy EP closer “Shine,” Crowther broods over life on the road and away from his family. It is heartfelt, poignant and raw, which could well describe The Boots EP on the whole, and the increasing brilliance of Waylon Speed.
Waylon Speed play Club Metronome this Thursday, January 19, with Okie Weiss.
(Full disclosure: Justin Crowther is an occasional freelance music reviewer for Seven Days.)