CD Review – Overmountain Men “The Next Best Thing”
Most of the press being generated for this sophomore release by Charlotte’s Overmountain Men centers around the fact that Avett Brothers bassist Bob Crawford is a member. Even though it’s great that the band is getting a higher level of publicity because of that, the lyrical centerpiece of this band is acclaimed songwriter David Childers. It’s his voice you hear on lead, and although he gives songwriting credit to the whole band, if you know his work, you can tell that his voice was the dominant one in composing this material. On his ’94 debut with the Mt. Holly Hellcats on Godzilla, He Done Broke Out (http://www.allmusic.com/album/godzilla-he-done-broke-out-mw0000012600) and later with the Modern Don Juans, Childers put out a brand of hardscrabble Americana that exposed the off white underbelly of society at street level through the eyes of bums, drifters and outcasts with the souls of philosophers. He says that folk music has gotten too refined, and believes that rock and roll is folk music.
Crawford’s initial role in the Overmountain Men was as a cheerleader for Childers’ writing talents. Childers had become so disillusioned the music biz in 2007 that he was going to quit when a gig with Crawford sitting in on bass, playing Childers songs with the Don Juans in Cleveland so impressed Crawford that he kept in touch with Childers and encouraged him to keep writing. Crawford set the lyrics Childers sent him to music for the Overmountain Men’s first release O Glorious Day.
Childers’ take on rock doesn’t exclude instruments usually associated with mountain men: fiddles, banjos, and mandolins drift into the mix. And though he can mellow it down few notches for the more Appalachian based tunes, son Robert is a rock and roll drummer at heart, providing a punched up backbeat to the proceedings throughout.
Childers’ voice and approach on the Overmountain Men material is more mellow and mellifluous than on his previous work. “All Out Of Diamonds” is a beautiful song in content and tone, sounding like it fell out of a Merle Haggard session. “True love don’t have a price,” Childers sings as son Robert bashes his cymbals dramatically behind him. “It sure takes more than diamonds/to make a marriage right.” “Hard Loving You” is vintage Don Juan era-Childers, hardcore country that delivers a stiff uppercut to romance: “you drink and curse and smoke and spit/ you got long legs that just don’t quit,” Childers declaims against a honky tonk piano tinkling in the background.
Childers has always looked to his band for musical support, and he gets plenty here with the addition of Crawford’s arranging skills, harmony and prowess on bass as well as the help of long time Modern Don Juans bandmate and multi-instrumentalist Randy Saxon on guitar, banjo and mandolin. The arrangements range from lush to stark. “Death is So Romantic” has just a plaintive banjo plunking along behind softly strummed acoustic guitars as Childers delivers the tragi-comic message to the very young who romanticize death: “They drink and dope and drive too fast and think that’s dying fun /thinking if they think at all that they will get a pass, just like in the movies tell the world to kiss their ass.”
“Inspiration is a curse doing nothing is much worse,” Childers intones on “Alexander Hamilton,” a lush but simple arrangement with violin piano and Crawford thumping along stealthily on doghouse bass.
Both Crawford and Childers agree that the Overmountian Men is not a commercial venture, but a side project that needs to be full time fun because they don’t have time to be doing something they don’t love. Here’s hoping it continues to fulfill their desires as it takes care of ours.