The New 76ers – In the Light
Some years ago, at a bluegrass festival in a remote corner of South Georgia, I saw the New 76ers announce the last song of their set—which had been a tightly ripped mix of standards and originals—and begin singing Shady Grove. About three minutes into the tune a solo was passed to guitarist Danny Goddard. I watched—stunned by both the acrobatics and the irony—as the melody transformed itself into Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall. Then, in a quasi-spiritual moment, the rural audience of whitebread Republicans suddenly found themselves having risen from the deep sag of their lawn chairs to sing along: “We-don’t-need-no-ed-u-ca-tion!”
It was that same year at a Bob Dylan tribute in Tallahassee, inside a packed American Legion Hall, that I saw “The Sixers” (their nom de guerre in the Florida Panhandle), take the stage, but leave it before even plugging in. They had in that very moment (I was to learn later), and solely by the fluency of eye contact, decided to play their set out on the floor among the crowded tables. Without amplification. I can’t account for the proverbial sound of any pins dropping, but I can attest to the fact that every one of the 200 people in the room—including the bartender, who simply quit serving—heard every note, every word of Boots of Spanish Leather.
Like they had never heard them before.
It might seem we are speaking here of a stage-crafty group of crowd manipulators, some Americana version of Pink (singing) spinning, naked, up-side-down. Not so. Though both of the episodes noted here were more than memorably cool, they were noticeably uncontrived. No, at an astonishingly high level, these were artists just messing with their medium. Not their audience.
To quote Gurf Morlix, “You can’t act cool, man, you can only be cool.”
Such are the New 76ers. Whose second release, In The Light, somehow manages to roll that very coolness from the stage to the studio, a journey that has tripped up more bands than open bar tabs. This thirty-something husband/wife/brother team has rent an acoustic album with juxtaposed orchestral and rootsy tonalities. But it works just like their mating of Shady Grove and Another Brick in the Wall.
Instrumentation is stellar through-out, but this is a voice driven record, along the lines of CSNY back in the day. But to say “Oh, the harmonies are so great,” (as many do), is to misunderstand that the magic of The New 76ers vocals isn’t as much about harmony as it is the strength of the package. I’ve seen it slam a live audience, and I can hear it on this record, rising off these tracks like a flock of geese off a pond.
Though mostly love songs, the songs here are born of experience rather than longing, more matter-of-fact than wtf. That’s unusual for young people, though these guys are damn close to not being that any more, and they relate as much with an ironical twist in the lead track Young, Wild and Free.
Moreover, the album on the whole bears out the fact that they are (maybe sometimes painfully) aware of this. It’s one thing to catch an artist searching for something. And another to hear them out when they’ve learned something.
The New 76ers – In the Light
Produced by Kris Kop and The New 76ers
Brian Durham- vocals, bass and trombone
Danny Goddard – vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, steel guitar, organ, piano, percussion
Kelly Goddard – vocals, guitar
Special Guest – Drew Matulich on fiddle