The melodic melting pot known as Roots Music. The accumulation of the more traditional genres: Americana, Blues, Country, Bluegrass, and yes, even a little Punk. Held together with banjos and dobros. Rhythmically kneaded by double bass and stirred vigorously with fiddle. Whether you know it or not, the combination in any form will suck you in quicker than West Virginia mud. Don’t try to fight it. Just hold your breath and sink in.
At the head of the pack, with more mile markers in their rearview than most, are the lovable duo of Liz Sloan and Jared McGovern. The two have nurtured their craft as the defiant book ends of the stage, encasing such notable talent as Bob Wayne and Jayke Orvis to name a few. It wasn’t until the Autumn of 2013 when the pair took center stage as The Urban Pioneers.
Lay the hammer down, as they say, and you find them neck deep in quarter notes to quarter miles releasing their third full length in three years – a feat any band should be proud of. Appropriately named “Feast or Famine”, the title, as well as the cover art by Quinton Baker, conjures the “now or never” spirit. The “eat or be eaten” reality of nearly 300 days a year on the road. Asking, can this continue on? Can album number three really live up to its predecessors?
2016 left the band with big shoes to fill. Their previous album, “Vehicle in Transit” (May 2015) was nothing short of spectacular from beginning to its six-minute-long end with “Just Over The Horizon”, a Hungarian gypsy-style rager that leaves your heart racing on the corner. So what’s next? “Feast or Famine” has the answer. It does more than provide. It satisfies. Jared and Liz snatch you up right where they left you a year ago. Courageously starting the album with a scorching instrumental priming the pump for another big go-around, The Urban Pioneers whirl you and wow you with their tenacious speed and fury right before hitting the brakes.
“Feast or Famine” seems to officially begin with track two, “Sunrise After Sunset”, a step into the more traditional sound they do best. The charm of Texas swing colliding with the ballads of the Blue Ridge. Much like Jared and Liz, a match made in heaven. The album continues to follow suit with the previous full lengths. A blend of stories running the emotional gamut from teary eyed heart melters to cheeky humor spun to make you smile. Not forgetting to toss in a couple of traditional numbers like “Lazy Bones” and even a few moments reminiscent of their time in The Broken Band. It has become the Urban Pioneers’ simple but highly effective equation for creating a great album.
Improvements shine brightest in the musicians themselves. The inclusion of Martin Sargent’s on-point upright bass playing sets a solid foundation for Jared’s claw hammer banjo and Liz’s hellfire fiddle, which have both become faster and more refined (I didn’t think it was possible either). The raspy lead vocal from Jared has been honed and even found sultry at times and when combined with Liz’s voice, which plays a much bigger part on this album (hallelujah!), you get a more fantastic dynamic between the two. Liz even takes lead on their version of Ola Belle Reed’s “High on the Mountain”.
In addition to the three piece, accompaniment from the likes of Abel Casillas (accordion), J.D. Wilkes (harmonica), and Joe Macheret (guitar) polish up “Feast or Famine” with a professional sense of taste and quality. Just what any solid studio album needs.
If one wish could be granted it would be more “Cincinnati” Joe Macheret in the mix. His Terminator guitar, though played wonderfully, would have been a bit more effective with a small twist of the volume knob. Yet, beggars can’t be choosers.
Everything considered, “Feast or Famine” is clearly another Urban Pioneers must-have. Find out more at www.urbanpioneersmusic.com or look them up on Facebook. Go to a show and pick up the great deal they offer on all three albums, because any one or two is just not enough. You need the trifecta, believe me. You’ll thank me. You’ll thank yourself. Mostly, you’ll thank the Urban Pioneers!