South Carolina's Sol Driven Train take a different musical route entirely from other acts. They even created a new term to define their sound, a euphemistic tag: low country roots rock. Vocalist, guitarist and trombone player Ward Buckheister describes it as a mix of Americana, Afro-Caribbean, and swamp sounds highlighted by coastal accents. Drummer Wes Powers notes, "It simply means music inspired by the beauty of the low country and the shores of Charleston (South Carolina), as well as its rich historical and musical heritage."
Considering the band's unlikely blend of brass and banjo, that explanation seems as ample as any. Indeed, Sol Driven Train's influences run a wide gamut, from the African explorations of Paul Simon's Graceland and the festive exhortations of New Orleans Dixieland, to the unerring introspection of artists like Jesse Winchester, James Taylor and John Prine. "An eclectic mix of sounds and direction," as Powers describes it.
Four out of five members share the vocal duties, and the group is adept at incorporating a variety of instrumental elements into their celebratory set-ups. "We just work and try to find the most effective way to use our musical assets to serve each song on an individual basis," Powers explains. "The song might have been composed with a particular sound in mind, or we might come across something we think is flattering to a composition by jamming and brainstorming."
Whatever the means, the process has served them well. In 2011, they were proclaimed "Rock Band of the Year" by the Charleston City Paper, while Relix magazine declared that them a band "On the verge." Since their origins in the spring of 2000, they've performed more than 1,000 live concerts and released four albums, an EP, two children's discs, a live CD and a live DVD. Along the way, they've expanded their South Carolina fan base into a loyal national following, one which helped fund their new album, Underdog, which was released last month.
According to Buckheister and Powers, the songs on Underdog were inspired by actual life experiences. "It was for sure," Buckheister asserts. "The first song, 'Underdog,' is directly about me, penned by Joel on the first year anniversary of my sobriety. It's also about anyone else facing some kind of seemingly hopeless challenge."
"The songs came out of personal experience," Powers agrees. "The concept of the title song was inspired by Ward's newfound sobriety. It also serves as a metaphor for Sol Driven Train's presence (or lack thereof) in the competitive world of corporate music, and represents the underdog in us all!"
With the album, Sol Driven Train offers up some of the strongest songs of their collective career. But it's their stage shows that allow the band to exert their energy and demonstrate the full range of their instrumental capabilities. "On stage, you have a lot more time on your hands," Buckheister explains. "There's an audience to engage. In the studio you're aiming at a specific target. Live, you have the give and take of the crowd."
"We sometimes have to figure out a different way to approach a song live with less layers," Powers concurs. "We welcome these challenges and are conscious of this when we're recording the studio versions."
So what can audiences expect from a Sol Driven Train performance?
"Fun, energy, dynamics, variety, and a depth of musical styles and lyrical meaning," Powers suggests.
"Good manners and a fun party," adds Buckheister. "Maybe a parade, maybe an impromptu Stomp tribute behind the bar, or maybe a meeting with the person of your dreams. It's happened before."
Sol Driven Train open for Tim Reynolds and T3 at 8:30 p.m. on March 21 at the Bamboo Room, 25 South J Street, Lake Worth. Tickets cost $25. Call 561-585-BLUE.
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