From beneath deep, black wayfarers and tall, Stetson hats, the Vandoliers play with the smooth-harshness of an unfiltered cigarette, clearing the musical sinuses with the efficiency of room-temperature whiskey: they’re genre-bending, Tex-Mex punk that sounds like someone dropped NOFX in the middle of Corpus-Christi.
They are the Wild Feathers’ black sheep brothers–they are outlaw country, set in the modern day.
As a collective, the band formed in 2015, but individually, they boast decades in various punk and folk outlets. That experience and diversity of skillsets is evident on their debut album, Ameri-Kinda, a seasoned collection that boldly announces the Vandolier’s presence, offering an atypical sound from an atypical—something we didn’t know we needed until it arrived.
With a boisterous mix of Telecasters, fiddles, horns, and banjos, the Vandoliers set late-night, honkytonk and bits of bluegrass against Joshua Fleming’s strained, punk rock croon. The band’s primary songwriter, Fleming brings forth quintessential stories with refreshing defiance, putting his own stamp on country standards about late nights and lonely highways, myriad shortcomings and dropping LSD. It’s a robust pronouncement of things to come, with a balance of grit and traditionalism that punctuates what the Vandoliers are.
Upon early listens—especially during the album’s latter half—Ameri-Kinda shows the potential for this group to become a red dirt version of Flogging Molly or the Dropkick Murphy’s, as they marry seemingly disparate genres in the vein of Social Distortion’s 1990 cover of “Ring of Fire.”
With songs like their lead single, “Wildflower,” as well as “Joy Ride,” and “Spring Water Supper Club,” there are moments of relative softness on Ameri-Kinda, which display the thoughtful songwriting paramount to classic country. However, the band quickly offers unapologetic rockers like “Blaze of Glory” and “Sinner Like Me,” which barrel forward like a minor chord bullet train, and give the album’s its necessary variety.
“Hank” is a Vandoliers’ version of “Boy Named Sue,” with Fleming singing, “If I named my daughter Hank, it’d suit her well,” before going on to articulate his new band’s dueling influences: “’Cause I can hear her singing…every word to every single song, from Patti Smith to Patsy Cline.”
But more than anywhere else on Ameri-Kinda, “Bottom Dollar Boy” shows the full complement of what the Vandoliers can do, as they let a south-of-the-border-trumpet lead into breakneck strums on a track grounded in everyday poetry: “Bottom Dollar Boy” is about being broke, and Fleming insulates that desperation with an inherent goodness, despite the his narrator’s failure to pay the rent, and his threats of robbing a bank or holding up a liquor store. Fleming calls himself “a bottom dollar boy with a golden heart,” willing “to do any dirty job they got left in the state,” and there’s a unique charm in the song’s lack of glamour, which is born out of Josh Fleming’s reality.
“I was pretty down on my luck, at the time: my old hard rock band had just broken up, I was out of work, late on rent, and on top of that, I owed my lady money for helping me get by,” he says. “I just kind of realized that I’m probably going to be a broke singer for a long, long time. For the first time, though, my bottom dollar lifestyle wasn’t just affecting me, but my then-fiancé, so I wrote this song as a bit of an apology to her for being a low life musician, and a promise that, by hook or crook, I’ll find a way to pay her back someday for sticking it out with me.”
“Bottom Dollar Boy” is a succinct introduction to the Vandoliers, a band that boasts classic rock’n’rollers, whose appeal exists in their rough-charm: they are road worn and well acquainted with lean times, and those experiences are manifested in their sound. But in this distinct, new project, we find a promise of better days and more lucrative nights ahead–that their are paybacks coming from a bottom dollar life.
For more on the Vandoliers, visit vandoliers.com, and pre-order Ameri-Kinda on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/album/id1150175577?ls=1&app=itunes).