The 29ers – Old Machines

 The 29ers – Old Machines

The 29ers – Old Machines – Album Review

What’s this now?  Something about a leather shop?

I tell ya folks…some of the best tunes you’ll find out there come from sources you’d least expect in this lifetime…like right here, we’ve got a band of good ol’ jam-session pub patrons turned pro, goin’ all the way from bar tabs, to breakin’ ground with a blend of Americana/Alt-Country…and you gotta dig that.

The story, as I’ve read it, has Mike Balitsaris opening up a leather shop in Wayne, Pennsylvania…and then really, it’s kinda like the vagabond spirit of the place took over & ends up drawing the right people towards it.  Soon enough, he’s joined by Brian Dusinberre, kind enough to bring the beers over to the shop from the pub next door…maybe or maybe-not on his dime, that part’s unclear…and soon enough, they’re playing regularly rockin’ a bistro in town before they get noticed by drummer Hobart Rowland, who sits right down at the throne and calls The 29ers home thereafter.  Then eventually, years later (approximately a decade or so) they somehow connected with our good friend Mr. John Mondick – a dude that hopefully at least some of you out there remember from our pages & playlists as well as I do from the music we’ve heard from him in the past in Birds Over Arkansas.  Will they continue to pick up new players like a mighty musical caravan over the years to follow?  They just might folks, they just might…you just never know.  That being said, from the sounds of this here shiny new album coming out soon…these Old Machines are still hummin’ strong…you’ll certainly feel like they’ve already found everything they’re ever gonna need in their band with the players it now has in the lineup after listening.

To me, it’s like these guys are bridging the gap between Johns like Fogerty & Mellancamp…add in a little bit of attitude from something like the Black Keys perhaps…and then maybe sprinkle in a bit of something like the smoothness of Dire Straits and the Folk-Rock playfulness of a band like Golden Smog for good measure…quite honestly, however you or I might go about describing them aside – I’m lovin’ what I hear.  You might find you feel like this track or that track leans more towards one of those comparisons…sometimes they’re rockin’ with melody as the focus, sometimes they’re purely rockin’ for rock’s sake and proudly so…there definitely ain’t anything wrong with being able to thrive in multiple gears & different styles, and it’s more than clear that The 29ers are more than capable of doing exactly that.  Great songwriting & all-around execution on this debut record!  Let’s be real here – they’ve had some time to think about how to go about it all, get these songs polished up over at the leather shop back in the day, and when the time finally came to record, The 29ers were clearly ready for the moment.

Incidentally, it should be noted that, The 29ers are still standing…the leather shop unfortunately is not.

Still standing!  Pffff – they’re about to start thriving like never before folks.  This is where it really begins; where the rubber meets the road, as they say.  With a debut record being released right around the corner and stages across their country about to open back up post-pandemic…believe me when I say y’all – the 29ers are actually about to become a whole lot more busy than perhaps even they realize.  As “Lincoln Highway” began, you can immediately hear the amount of style & skill at work…it’s a low-key & chilled-out Blues/Rock-esque style groove that’s somewhat tried, tested, and true for sure – but man – it’s impossible not to notice just how well-suited this sound is to The 29ers & how much they’re getting it RIGHT.  From the gripping tones of the guitar, to the subtle intensity of the bass-lines, to the steady beat of the drums, to the absolutely stellar vocals they’ve got on the microphone from the lead & supported in the background…”Lincoln Highway” alone would have you concluding that they’ve got all the right pieces they need to achieve the success they’re seeking out.  With that storyteller style y’all know you love, The 29ers immediately get you interested in what’s up & what’s to come with “Lincoln Highway” – this road forward is full of slick rhythm & style for miles…and I’m happy to enjoy the ride.  Bonus points for the keys in the mix…lovin’ those as well…all-around though, you gotta dig just how right & tight everything sounds…these boys can write a tune, and they can play it real well, no doubt – everything you’ll hear in “Lincoln Highway” points to a band that really knows the sound they have.

Let it always be said & understood – I love smart choices being made WITH your music just as much as I love hearing them IN the music, you dig?  When I see that a band like The 29ers had put out “Scars And Tattoos” as the lead-single to Old Machines, I just cracked a smile – that’s as wise of a choice as could have been made, and a great selection to put out there as the gateway into this new album of theirs.  It’s always going to be fair to say that, sure, The 29ers aren’t completely reinventing Rock’n’Roll here in what they do – but that’s not always the end goal for every artist or band, nor would I expect it to be theirs after reading about the story of how they’ve come together so naturally over time – they’re looking to play & write great tunes, and they’re wildly succeeding in that respect.  I listen to a track like “Scars And Tattoos” and I know – for a FACT – that they’ve got hooks within this song that display that genuine magic in music people cannot possibly resist…go ahead & test the theory for yourself if you like.  Hearing them transition from verse to chorus on “Scars And Tattoos” is really the difference between what’s good and what’s great; I was fully enjoying myself from the get-go here, but when they moved into the main chorus hooks…well folks…that’s when I realized there’s a whole lot more specialness in The 29ers and potential in their music than perhaps I even understood myself at first.  Because you can’t escape amazing vibes like these…it’s just impossible, full-stop.  Playing “Scars And Tattoos” up loud from the stage of any bar or club is gonna send people racing to the dance-floor to do what they do – you can hear that’s pretty much guaranteed – but credit where credit is due, they’ve got a really amazing songwriting that stands out for multiple reasons…and whilst you’re busy dancing to a track like this, it’s bound to cross several minds that they’re actually listening to a song that’ll remain in the soundtrack of their lives from there on.  To be clear – I like ALL of this song – I’m simply highlighting the fact that there are moments that define music in ways words could never capture or describe…when you hear “Scars And Tattoos” for yourself, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about…The 29ers wander themselves straight into the heart of the real magic of music and what makes a moment in time & a melody connect here…and it’s awesome.  By far & away one of the record’s most accessible hooks, and a great call for The 29ers to have made in making this song available prior to the official release of Old Machines as the record’s lead single…if people can get to the chorus of this cut and somehow resist it, they’re stronger than I am.  From that moment specifically, I knew I was jumping right aboard this bandwagon to find myself a permanent seat & that The 29ers, as a whole, were going to reveal much more than I initially might have thought.

There ain’t no glory in regret” as they’ll tell ya themselves – but I’d argue there IS glory in “No Regrets,” right here in song form!  I mean…this is seamless stuff folks!  The fluidity & natural sound of these songs is straight-up impeccable when it comes right down to it – The 29ers have one of the most inviting records to listen to that you’re likely to stumble upon this year.  And keep in mind…I’d probably, fundamentally, at my core as a guy born Grunge, consider myself largely to be somewhat on the outside of the Americana/Alt-Country genres overall…so if they’re getting through to me, this quickly, this easily – believe me when I say, The 29ers are rockin’ with universal vibes we’re all bound to fully latch onto.  While I’ll readily admit that what they pulled off in “Scars And Tattoos” now has me searching for that defining magical moment & next-level hooks in their melody…I also have to say that, even in songs where that’s not necessarily the case like “Lincoln Tunnel” or “No Regrets” – it’s more like a situation where the entire song is the hook itself, you dig?  Excellent balance in what The 29ers do all-around from the music to the microphone, lyricism & concepts…there’s nothing wrong at all with trading in the search for a shiny defining hook for a song that’s bulletproof from start to finish, and genuinely interesting to listen to on several levels, which is what they’ve got in a track like “No Regrets” for sure.  LISTEN to these guys in action though will ya?  There’s no weak points to be found in this band of four – they’ve got incredibly thick bass-lines that have spot-on smoothness, that gruff & grizzled wisdom beaming from the microphone with sincere melody, and so much more to enjoy in the roles that the drums, piano keys, & guitar play along the way as well…”No Regrets” is a flawless track all said & done.

Did I list Van Morrison in my initial list of comparisons?  No?  I should have.  Impossible to miss the influence on their title-track “Old Machines” – this is as smooth as smooth can be y’all, and simply great songwriting, pure & plain.  Some of my favorite vocals in any of these songs from beginning to end – the balance they’ve got between verse & chorus here is exceptional.  Lyricism…absolutely outstanding…the imagery in the words of “Old Machines” is nothing short of straight-up magnificent in how real & relevant it is, but also for just how interesting their words & storyteller style really is as well.  Guitars – probably one of my favorite solos on the album here too – short & sweet, and 100% perfection – the quality you’ll find on display throughout this entire tune in all areas would be pretty hard to argue against.  What’s truly remarkable about this band & about this record, is that no matter how solid & well-written any of these songs may be, and how well each of them would set up The 29ers for success – it’s the organic & natural way that they play them that draws out the full potential of each & every tune.  Essentially, what I’m tellin’ ya, is that these songs in this set-list here, played by anyone else or any other band, wouldn’t contain a tenth of the magic that this band of four is capable of…it’s the intangible elements of The 29ers that make them every bit as irresistible as the golden hooks they can create.  “Old Machines” would make another strong candidate as a lead-single for sure, mellow as it is…it’s still got that deep connection to accessible sound & plays like a story, where you really wanna hear how all this works out by the end.  The 29ers give you every reason to stick with’em for every word, note, and tone they sing & play…there’s just a genuinely humble brilliance that shines in their warm sound & insightful songwriting…it’s highly inviting – I can’t imagine anyone out there not loving “Old Machines” the song, or Old Machines the record for that matter.  They make great songs…that’s not an opinion, that’s facts.

As a guy that listens to music all day, every day – I generally know what’s gonna connect with me within mere seconds…I know what I’m listening for in the music I listen to.  “Girl Like You” was that song for me on Old Machines…there was something about the bend of the vocal melody in this tune that tipped me off straight away…I knew I was gonna either like or love this track, and I felt like I ended up doing both.  I felt like what I liked a lot, was the build-up in this song overall…this is a cut where I’d put them closer to a comparison to something like Golden Smog at their finest & most focused…it’s great Americana/Folk-style storytelling in song form, and you gotta love the amount of details & sincerity you’ll find to be had.  Relaying the struggles of the daily grind and the obstacles that get in the way of life & love when working and traveling & whatnot…The 29ers have a very grounded & real perspective when it comes to their lyricism, and the authenticity always connects.  Nothing sounds anywhere close to pretentious or fake or anything less than perfectly suited for the style of music they’re making and what they genuinely wanna communicate to us without forcing a thing.  “Girl Like You” possesses a significant amount of sweetness and beautifully descriptive lyricism you can visually see in your mind as you listen – The 29ers have the complete ability to ‘take you there’ through the music they make & this is a highlight example.

“Rita” might be the most unexpected track in this particular set-list…but man-oh-man is it a stand out!  While I’m probably personally going to advocate for more endearing melodies like I’ve found through “Scars And Tattoos” and “Old Machines” – I recognize a hit-song when I hear one, and “Rita” is just waiting for its moment in time.  It took a while to get to why I had The Black Keys listed up in my list of comparisons at the very beginning of this review, but hey folks, here we are…you can’t miss the similarities in a cut like this…or once again, just how well suited the vibes The 29ers created are for themselves.  Flexing an entirely different dimension of their sound & style than we’ve heard to this point on Old Machines – there’s zero doubt in my head whatsoever about “Rita” being an instant fan-favorite, and rightly so.  “Nobody’s as good as Rita when she’s bad” is a brilliant line…moments later, you’ll find them singing about “rolling dice with a one-legged man” where they “missed the last train out, none of us could stand” – they’re supremely clever & clear with their lyrics, and the real bottom line is, they’re always writing in a way that retains our interest in-full.  Whether it’s the words, or the musicianship they put on display – The 29ers will have you paying complete attention, because the effort they’re putting in and the genuine passion they have, earns it.  LISTEN to the focus you’ll hear on “Rita” will ya?  What more could you possibly want folks?  They’ve got themselves a massive party-tune with this jam, and they spare no quarter in designing this track to be turned right up to the rafters for all the right reasons.  And it just so happens you’ll find “Rita” hangin’ out at that radio-friendly sweet-spot of just under three & a half-minutes in length…believe me when I say…they’ve got a cut here that should have no problem at all finding its airtime and space at the top of your playlists.  Especially right here in the heat of summer!  You think it’s been hot down south do ya?  You ain’t heard nothing yet!  “Rita” has got enough heat to triple the digits of your thermostat…people are gonna love this song & there’s no other logical conclusion that can be drawn to.  You’ll hear “Rita,” you’ll love it, you’ll repeat it…again & again & again.

So.  Alright.  Toughest spot in the lineup, bar-none, is the track that comes after a track with the raw energy & amped-up fun that “Rita” just pumped through your speakers…that’s just the facts and the reality of the effects of a universal hit-song.  And for a moment…however brief…I felt like there was absolutely no chance whatsoever that I could get what I was gonna need from “Blue Collar” to follow it up successfully, which mind you, would already be a superhuman task.  That being said…not only did I end up coming around in-full within a couple listens…I’d probably argue that The 29ers have again uncovered one of the strongest hooks you’ll find upon this whole album.  Listen – the worst thing they could have probably done would have been to try to match “Rita” with some kind of similar idea or energy in the song to come…that would have led to potential disaster & they’ve made a smart decision in switching up the atmosphere & vibe entirely with “Blue Collar,” heading back into a slower melodic gear.  The 29ers sing about real things that affect real people, and there’s perhaps no better example of that in action than what you’ll find in the words of “Blue Collar” and the real weight you feel come along with this whole song.  From the moment it begins, you feel that seriousness instantly…you know that the party-vibes & good-times of a track like “Rita” are being shelved for the moment, and we’re about to head into a track that likely has more tangible depth to it, which I’d have to argue, “Blue Collar” does have.  Don’t get it twisted, don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the kind of hooks & energy that “Rita” has and I get it, I get it – it’s a hit – any functioning set of ears would have to say the same; but as much as we instantly love tracks like “Rita,” it’s BECAUSE we do, that we tend to spin’em as hard as we can at the start, and in some cases, can often spin’em right into the dirt.  The songs we love most on those initial spins and first years of listening to an album are usually the first ones we wear out in the process, like it or not.  All I’m saying is, “Blue Collar” has the kind of unbreakable strength that brings you back to a record to listen, time & time again.  I like the organ accent in the melody, I like the bending slide guitar tones…or pedal-steel most likely, I’m never 100% sure…and the vocals here are all-out mesmerizing.  Involved & intense, while still appearing remarkably chilled-out on the surface…”Blue Collar” is a real master-class in effective songwriting and how to execute from the concept on up – the lyricism here is brilliantly real & relatable, honest & humble…and the musicianship you’ll find is equally outstanding.

OK!  We’ve made it to the end.  And like…as the aforementioned Grunge-guy…I don’t HAVE to like a song called “Truckers Trance” – do I?  Look…I’ll say this…I was just about as surprised by how much I DID like this song as much as I was by so many of the songs on this record – but that’s just the thing – The 29ers have an inherent magic in their music that WILL win you over, whether you try to resist or not.  I know I’m not going to be naturally drawn to a song called “Truckers Trance” before I’d even push play – I’ve got that much grey in my own beard and I’ve been doin’ this music thing THAT long…but I never let that cloud my judgment overall, or taint a listening experience.  I assume things yes, but I still go into every opportunity to check something out for the first time with a completely open mind, and more often than not, I’m stoked that I did.  The playfulness & fun to be had on “Truckers Trance” is a perfect example of why this method is worth it…if I had just assumed I wasn’t gonna like it and left it at that without really listening, you’d find a laundry list of invalid complaints.  The reality is – I DO like what I’m hearing on “Truckers Trance,” and when a song holds its own, in any style, you know I’m here for it!  This track makes me wanna get out there on the open road in a BIG RIG & crush some concrete underneath my wheels as I head from one side of the country to the other – and that is NOT how I normally feel y’all!  But this is what I’ve been saying all along…The 29ers have an innate ability to bring you right into their world through the music they make…so much so, that you just wanna be a part of it all, however you can.  I don’t know the first lick about driving a truck – I can barely walk in a straight line most days – but it’s a track like “Truckers Trance” that at the very least, gets me completely imagining what life would be like if I was to climb in the cab of a big’ol sixteen-wheeler & start haulin’ some logs!  Or something.  You see what I mean?  I don’t REALLY know a ton about that world, but I’ve got an idea.  And thanks to The 29ers & good ol’ “Truckers Trance” here, I’ve got a bit more of an idea than I used to.

Hats off to these guys – I think they’ve got a freakin’ fantastic debut record on their hands here that has delivered on all-fronts in multiple ways that make an impact, and given us all a wide variety of sound & style that proves The 29ers have a ton in the tank…and many miles on the road ahead to a bright future.

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