Is it unreasonable to think a band that calls themselves Stone Mountain Sinners might not come from the heartlands of Americana? A listen to their debut album Tones Of Home would only reinforce such a view. Distilling alt country, rock and blues Stone Mountain Sinners have created a potent original blend. Depending on the measures taken, Tones Of Home will have you leaping around or nicely mellowed out. That they are all from England only endorses the authenticity of their music.
Stone Mountain Sinners are all from England’s Midlands, a rich musical heritage for their rocking bluesy muse; think no further than Robert Plant who has already voiced his approval of their live show. The band came together when lead guitarist Neil Ivison was a touring guitar tech, his previous band having split. Discovering lead vocalist Sarah Warren had quit ten years’ hard grind with her band he asked if she’d be interested in working together. Fortunately the admiration was mutual but part of their collaboration was to be her band member and guitarist Nick Lyndon. Together the trio got to work writing the songs that became their debut album. In so doing they added Roger Roberts on keys, bassist Adam Hood on Bass and drummer Duke Delight. Thus emerged Stone Mountain Sinners.
The band’s influences have a strong mainstream rock theme; Stones, Creedence, Bob Seger, Humble Pie and the Black Crowes. For alt country/Americana they look to Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. There’s also a definite southern rock element to some of the tracks too.
The result is a very fruitful collaboration of like-minds. The Sinners have captured the sound and feel of their live set, a show that’s gathering a lot of positive comment beyond their home territory. That live sound was quite straightforward to replicate; first they chose a first rate recording studio, Rockfield in Wales. Next, producer Paul Cobbold (Waterboys, Pogues) and engineer Joe Jones (Proclaimers) used a vintage analogue desk and valve compressors to capture the spirit of the room (in which Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody). The band set themselves up in a circle so they could see each other and recorded everything as if they were playing live.
Opener ‘Roadhouse’ has just that live feel. A tense riff leads then the rest of the band come powering in as they lift the roof off another, well, roadhouse. The song has a Thelma and Louise theme as Warren belts out, “cruising in a Chevy with the soft top down, c’mon let’s take a ride/going to the roadhouse, lay your money down/going to the roadhouse, best little gig in town”. Already we are far from England, more like Texas. ‘Arms of Love’ is every bit as powerful, if at a slightly slower pace. It is still rock and no doubt a stalwart of the live show. Again, the band are incredibly tight as they switch from chorus to solos.
These two rockers are great but when the band slows down they really show their skills with great subtlety. The Americana element comes out in ‘Round Here’, a song built up around Ivison’s vocals. ‘Keeping On’ has an almost anthemic touch where Warren gives full vent to her powerful voice that’s every bit a match for the guitar chops around her. It really is no exaggeration to say there is more than a pinch of Janis Joplin about her.
On ‘Fool like Me’ the Sinners’ musical compass swings towards the country rock sound of Laurel Canyon. It is a beautifully flowing song that is a new take on that great laid back sound.
The opening to ‘Stronger’ has a hint of Skynyrd (‘Swamp Music’?) as Warren and the band show great nimbleness in weaving this song of defiance. ’Music City Blues’ just oozes Americana; the song’s place names, guest Maurice Hipkiss’s pedal-steel and fabulous lyrics. “Heading out of New York, what’s a boy to do?/Now I’m in Nashville I want to find a country girl like you”. They don’t sing that in Birmingham, England do they?
‘All Night Long’ moves at a confident pace with some perfect country rock harmonies. The record closes all too soon with title track ‘Tones Of Home’. This brings the listener back to the band’s creation as Ivison sings of his homesickness while out in the Californian desert. His lyrics convey how far he is from home but the sound is as close to Gram Parsons as the Joshua Tree, only two miles from where he wrote the song.
Tones Of Home is an impressive debut. In only nine tracks Stone Mountain Sinners have drawn from a broad sweep of influences to create a tightly original blend of rock, country and blues. ‘Authentic’ is often used too casually to describe music but in this case it is spot on. They may not be from Americana’s heartland but Stone Mountain Sinners have everything about that music running through their veins.