It seems to have become a dirty word, but if anyone embodies “alt-country,” it’s Massy Ferguson. On their fifth album, Great Divides, Massy Ferguson confronts a life well-lived and hard-won. The Seattle-based band combines the desolate, impactful lyrics of Seattle’s grunge with Tom Petty-esque hooks and a rootsy sensibility (on the album’s second track, Ethan Anderson implores, “Drop an atom bomb on me.”) Massy Ferguson packs a huge, stadium-worthy sound into stories about everyday life.
But the band, named after a farm equipment manufacturer, mostly has a sense of fun. “Maybe the Gods” is the most “country” of the songs on this album, with jangly fingerpicking boosted by a healthy dose of distortion and reverb. The song is sunny and optimistic, capturing the energy of a young person setting out on their own for the first time, hoping for luck and a relatively easy road ahead — though, like any good country song, it’s tinged with a hint of anxiety. There are no easy answers with Massy Ferguson.
Another standout, “Momma’s in the Backseat” could easily live on Top 40 country radio today with a bit of overproduction. It’s a cheeky story recalling misspent youth that in lesser hands would be a fatuous story of good ol’ boys getting into trouble. But Massy Ferguson channels the spirit of The Hold Steady to transform it into a tale of remembering what’s most important to you. The album wraps up with “They Want That Sound,” a jangly meditation on authenticity.
I’ve seen artists move away from this kind of straightforward, distortion-fueled music. Alt-country — or Americana, as we all seem to be calling it these days — has traded its rowdiness for a melancholy dread. But Massy Ferguson proves that growing up doesn’t have to be the same as chilling out. Great Divides is just as full of energy as it is of wisdom. In these times, we need Massy Ferguson’s urgency.