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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Alpha Mule - Peripheral Vision (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

An excellent debut here from traditional roots music duo Alpha Mule here and the band’s 10 original composition really explores some varied ground; more so than your average country n’ folk twosome.  With the core of the music relying on banjo, acoustic guitar and vocals, it’s really a treat to hear the music come off this fresh and original.  Let’s face it, as much as the genre is one of my favorites it can be a little bit confining and hard to take in an inventive direction. 

“Corpus Christi” starts things off with a gravelly, dust-storm of driving bass grooves, limber acoustic guitar/banjo workouts and smooth vocal harmonies from the main players, Joe Forkan (guitar/vocals) and Eric Stoner (banjo/vocals).  It has a bit of a bleak feel, especially when compared with the immediately following “On the Moon.”  Here the tempos congeal into a mid-paced trot instead of a light brigade charge and the tuneful instrumental wanderings bring in a bit of everything from bluegrass to ol’ tyme country with even some pop songwriting in place to create hooky verse and chorus vocal arrangements.  The pace further slows its runaway wagon axles on the steel guitar laced title track which should really provide some enjoyment for fans of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and all of the formative stars the genre has seen. 

The twosome retain their restraint on “The Distance’s” tranquil balladry before taking things up two or three notches on the 50s rock n’ roll jive of “Pavlov.”  Skillful sonic use of percussion and a mean upright bass foundation kicks the guitars and banjo into a furious overdrive with bluesy baritone vocals to match.  “Mule in the Mine” is a unique mix of styles that reckon of coal-mining country with riverside guitars and banjos plucking away as Stoner and Forkan match vocals wits along the way.  Accoutrements such as the addition of the rhythm section and harmonica further the depth of this tune, although it’s interesting to hear the stripped-down duo version available in the bonus tracks to see how the tune developed on the trail.  Of the remaining tracks, “Step Outside” and somber closer “Empire” harness some vast folk expanse and cool the mood off to a melodic, harmony-filled simmer that’s truly a stroke of low key brilliance to behold, while “The Ballad of Huell Howser” and “Music of Our Hearts” pile on the vintage country influences with the latter possessing some of the strongest vocal work on the album. 

This Southern California duo really knows how to get down and it’s the listeners that benefit across the 15 tracks of Peripheral Vision (there are 5 bonus cuts all told).  These songs move and shake, stirring up the soul and the brain during the process.  With a debut as tight as this one, it’s going to be a pleasure to watch Alpha Mule develop their sound further across future albums.  Here’s to a long, illustrious career for the guys, you’ve certainly won over this humble scribe; very good stuff and highly recommended.

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