There is a fair bit of banjo on Time Sawyer’s entertaining new album Mountain Howdy, but as befits the alt-country style of the band, it is by no means frenetic mountain bluegrass picking. Indeed, some of it is a refreshing use of what should be a more versatile instrument than it is.
Take the track “I Wish I Could (Talkin’ Blues),” a tingly number about the end of love affairs in which singer Sam Tayloe wishes he could “always talk in silence, turn my thoughts to firewood.”
The banjo part here is pretty much a series of slow, single-chord background strums that, silly though it might sound, make the song strangely reminiscent of “Hotel California.” Indeed, the song has a haunting guitar solo from Luke Mears that also — intentionally or not — pays homage to the legendary song.
Then comes “Lonely’s a Heartbreaker’s Dream,” where loveless protagonist Tayloe, who wrote all but one of the songs, says “I used to see gold, now I just see silver.”
In this case, the banjo — played throughout the album by Houston Norris — is used almost piano-like with slow, single notes that drip like water in a mine. Again there is a lovely bit of rock guitar from Mears to accompany it, but the banjo (at least in the gentler bits) is the lead.
I mention these two songs and the non-traditional use of banjo as a way of signaling that despite its name, Mountain Howdy is not even close to your basic Appalachian yee-haw music. This album, the Charlotte, North Carolina band’s seventh, is a series of thoughtful and diverse alt-country/country-rock numbers that dip in and out of various traditions.
There are some pretty straightforward country numbers, such as “Whiskey” and “Robin,” but for the most part it is within the tracks that you get the diversity. And very pleasing it is too.
The band — whose members also comprise Jordan Nelson on drums and Court Wynter on upright bass — hints at its approach to music through its name.
The “Sawyer” is backward-looking, referring, of course, to Mark Twain’s country boy Tom. But the pun on the name, “Time,” is purportedly the songwriter’s muse that carries us through life’s changing circumstances.
There is one other song worthy of a special mention: “Vinyl Junkie,” sung and written by Mears. It is a tongue-in-cheek blues that I suspect many No Depression readers will relate to about a modern-day addict whose needle is a stylus. Our addict spends an inordinate amount of time seeking out old records.
“I like old rock ‘n’ rolly country / I dig blues about anything funky / Say now, man, do you know what I mean?” he sings.