Review: Fifth on the Floor- Dark and Bloody Ground
Much like country, the best Southern rock has always been about life itself and, more specifically, the inner struggle between having a damn good time forgetting all about your troubles and actually coming face-to-face with the harsh realities of life. From The Allman Brothers Band to the North Mississippi Allstars, great bands have addressed and embraced both sides of that struggle and on Dark and Bloody Ground, Fifth on the Floor have positioned themselves as the next great Southern rock group and have released an album that, like Second Helping or The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion will be the defining record of the decade for the genre.
Based out of Lexington, Kentucky, Fifth on the Floor are heavily influenced by both old-school classic rock and modern alt. country and on this record they have crafted their own unique sound perfectly combining elements of both. This is a band who are equally adept at Fabulous Thunderbirds-inspired hard rock numbers like “Shine” and bluegrass-influenced tunes such as “Another Day.”
Much of the band’s success lies with their natural chemistry and while listening to the record, you get the feeling that these guys simply belong together. The gritty vocals of lead singer Justin Wells provide the perfect match for Matt Rodgers’ skilled guitar licks and the rhythm section of Robin Polly and Chris Collins is among the best I’ve heard in quite some time. Add in the occasional banjo, piano, and kazoo (yeah, you heard me right) and it adds up to a damn near perfect exampleof the Southern rock genre.
Listening to this record, you can tell that these guys have paid their dues and have walked in the footsteps of their heroes to get to where they are. As a result, their songs sound nothing like the bubblegum pop currently coming out of Nashville or the hipster bullshit that makes up the so-called “indie” scene these days. These is real music of the people, by the people, and for the people. Speaking from personal experience, my little section of Ohio is the poorest in the state by far and it is located much closer to Kentucky than any of the major cities of the Buckeye State. Lyrically, these guys nail this area. They capture all of the struggle, all of the bitterness, all of the hardship, and, yes, all of the beauty. There was not a single song here that I couldn’t relate to in some way, from “Georgia,” a rocking number about wanting to escape to “The Fall,” a honky-tonk track where you can literally feel the singer’s pain coming through the speakers.
While Fifth on the Floor are easily among the best musical ensembles on the scene today, their biggest strength lies in their lyrics. The acoustic ballad “Distant Memory Lane,” for example, is a masterpiece of heartbreak, creating vivid and piercing images in the listener’s head and keeping them there long after the song and the album have ended. The same can be said for the evocative rocker “Missin’ the Mornin’.” Then on “Another Day,” the band even gets a little political while addressing current coal mining issues in their home state (“To ask them why there is no food makes you a pinko commie fool,” Wells declares at one point before targeting mine owners who “pay the lawman off to pass deregulation/And make their money off our health and broken back.”) But as I said before, this is a band that deals with good times as well as bad (even if the bad times are always hiding just beneath the surface) and with numbers like “Hell If I Know” and the harmonica-laden “Front Door Blues,” they have created some of the best pure good-time rock ‘n roll in years.
To put it simply, Fifth on the Floor are for Kentucky what the Allman Brothers were to Georgia. They have combined elements of their state’s legendary musical past and created something new, fresh, and exciting. This is XXX music at it’s finest and it is the new music of the working class. These guys represent both everything that is right with the underground scene and everything that is wrong with the “indie” scene, where all too often you have pretentious “songwriters” masturbating on stage (figuratively speaking) rather than connecting with their audience. Fifth on the Floor are brining back that connection and I get the feeling that if Ronnie Van Zant is looking down, he’s damn proud.
Sure, these guys aren’t “hip” enough to be played on NPR, no writer will ever do a story on them in Rolling Stone, and they damn sure won’t be seen on CMT or VH1 anytime soon. But if you have this record, why in the hell would you need any of that shit anyway?