There is something bigger at work than just Auto Tune or electronic beats or guitars on the eponymous debut album of South Florida natives, Gravel Kings. What's at work is a group of musicians who not only understand vocal harmony, but the harmony of acoustics in a fashion that surrenders to the roots of folk music.
The album begins with "More Alive," and, simply put, the song has the capacity to make you feel exactly that. Joey Johnson leans right into the sound of brassy banjo picking, which, when accompanied by Johnnie Schumacher's uptempo, clean snare, shape a sound that becomes unique for the band.
"We decided to shoot the video for 'More Alive' because we see most of our fans shaking a leg during that tune. Sometimes it's best to listen to the people who listen to you. This is us letting those people know we got the message," says frontman Zachary Jones.
It has a danceable, even pop dynamic that doesn't make the listener feel as though they've jeopardized their good sense in music.
And that sonic paradigm between danceable pop and true folk musicianship carries through the rest of the track listing. "More Alive" serves as Gravel Kings 101 -- an amuse-bouche for your sound-self and the six songs to follow. It's also the first single chosen for release by the band and the first music video shot for the album.
"The fellow that was cool enough to direct the video, Lance Camp, suggested we film it in our hometown of Fort Pierce," says Zachary Jones, who sings and plays guitar for the band." We found this really great park and hiked our equipment two miles in. When we started playing we had so much fun that we ran through an entire set of songs."
When "Summer Catch" drops as the second track, the energy "More Alive" provided continues. Schumacher's drum kit, fitted with a tambourine that adds a little extra something to the rhythm, and Zachary Jones' vocals balance the lighthearted lyrics with a steady progression of acoustic guitar chords that serve to fill the sound to its potential.
"Fountain of Youth," the third track on the album, takes the listener on a melodic detour. Scaling back the catchy pitch of the first two tunes, this third track, followed by "Kentucky Wine" (word on the street is that Camp has his eye on this song for the next video) bring the mood back down to earth and remind the listener of that "something bigger" thing, moving in a more mellow and somber direction.
Lyrical topics range from halting the passage of time ("At least your eyes can slow it down"), to spending that time doing whatever you want to do regardless of what everyone else thinks ("You call me lazy, you call me crazy, just because I 'm sleeping in."). Both songs carry a heavier emotional sound, though "Kentucky Wine" lightens it back up with banjo induced tempo shifts.
Then there is the fifth song on the album, "We'll Be Fine." On the track, which follows up on the more upbeat banjo breakdowns in "Kentucky Wine," the band flexes their ability to harmonize with each other vocally.
Finally, "Heart To Sell" treats the listener to Mike Seniuk's stand up bass, along with the last song on the track list, also the most noteworthy composition wise, "Floating Island." It closes the album with the most carefully crafted and folky feel. It's the perfect last impression, and truly a song which captures the band at full wing span.
Gravel Kings have something with this album, funded strictly by the fans via a hopeful Kickstarter account and recorded at the Hit Box by Mike Bamonte in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. The details that make this record stand out come effortlessly for the band. Their sound is one that has the potential for molding and progression to experimentation within other genres, the way shapeshifters like Modest Mouse or the Avett Brothers combine influences. There is a definite place for them within the south Florida music scene, for sure. As the sounds they are making don't yet exist in our realm, but more importantly there is a place for them in the more global sense, as they represent the reprise of folk into popular culture.
Gravel Kings start a Florida round up with their album release show on April 6, at the Oceanside Pub in Jensen Beach. Then Record Store Day celebration at Sounds Good Music -- the gem of Port Saint Lucie, April 20.Will's Pub in Orlando for Southern Fried Sunday on April 21. Respectable Street in West Palm Beach on May 2. Visit gravelkings.com.
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