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I must begin this review with a confession: I am very weary of contemporary country. It seems that what gets churned out of the Nashville machine is either too “boo hoo” or too “Yee Haw” for this correspondent’s liking and my reviews tend to reflect this. That being said, the new self-titled album from The Sumner Brothers has turned Nashville pop on its ear and offers a snapshot of both what country once was and can still be. And here’s the kicker, I’m not even sure if its “country.”
The Vancouver outfit features elements of Americana, dirty blues and alt country rendering a genreless amalgam of styles all told through a storytellers yarn. The musicality comes through a tireless amount of arrangements, from toe-tapping barnburners to down-tempo swayable ballads. Lyrically, the content is as proletariat as can be; gruff workingman stories with boundless universal lessons. The songwriting and lyrical delivery these guys muster is ridiculously good.
The album standout “Both Back” is a lamentable outcry over the loss of family and sounds like it would fit nicely on a John Spencer Blues Explosion album. Lyrically and musically the whole of the track resonates of dirty, raw, gritty earthiness but the final product is testament that the proper essence of the thing was captured. “Pain” is a demure ballad of electri-fried guitar picking that bolsters Brian’s low-octave lyrical grumble. It is a thinking man’s song reminiscent of Cash at his best. Bob assumes lead vocals on “My Words” another down-tempo ballad of visceral lyrical content. The scant brush drum strokes and backing guitar picks allow the track to stand on its merit as well as play to its strength—vocal delivery. When both brothers harmonize on the chorus the song assumes another depth all together.
Again, so far removed is this from Nashville, I am not sure you can even label it country. Over the breadth of the album you’re sure to hear your fave country standouts, but that’s only because they are The Sumner Brothers fave standouts as well. So, careful not to hang a yoke around their necks, I’ll just label this “eclectic, damn good and for this writer, perhaps country’s saviors.”