Producing as they do a sound so organically reminiscent of the classic Americana rock of the ’70s, you’d be mistaken for thinking Souther Still were from anywhere but Nashville, Tennessee. But Bradley Putze and Kevin Stokes’ band, a going concern for nigh on a decade, has a distinct sound that quite betrays their English/Irish/Kiwi roots. Following the 2006 release of Dizziness & Darkness, and a number of line-up changes, their latest release Great Wild Street proceeds with pitch perfect, roots tinged rock.
In opening faintly to the calming sound of lapping water beating the shore, atmospheric and hazy as the focus draws in on a finger-picked guitar and a crystal voice; Disappointment Island quietly draws open an album exposing an array of influences and neat instrumentation. Essentially it is a recording of roots escapism, with frequent lyrical focus on the “highway for you to take your load”, city streets, open dirt roads and disappearance into “a film noir in [a] beat up car”. Lyrics of this sort assist in immersing the listener in the setting of a gritty road movie.
This third LP seamlessly traverses the Neil Young/Crazy Horse grungy-guitar opening of A Ghost In The Neighbourhood to City Rose, in which, instrumentally at least, featuring the organ and piano of session musicians, it could easily be a lost Jackson Browne number, while Putze’s vocals teeter effortlessly between the troubadour and the effeminate on Atlas Of The Dark, alongside the subdued strumming of an acoustic guitar. The only place in which the album falls short is on the interluding penultimate track Blindness Is King, the introspection of which, with lyrics like “throw me a smile like I’m someone you know”, ends all too quickly in a Bob Dylan-esque harmonica fade-out.
Often these are moody, dark songs about the “blood that flows” through the veins of our narrator and the people he observes; the kind of urbane folk Gram Parsons and an early Jeff Tweedy are notable for. Caroline exposes whisky drenched vocals uttering a rocky relationship: “I may lose my voice abusing the choice, that keeps me from moving on/ Would you tell me straight if I made a mistake/ Show me the easy road.”
They offer sentiment and lightness too; Hang On marries the subtle starlight sounds of a twinkling piano behind a guitar and bass driven structure that slowly fades to grey. These songs are glimmers of hope and of people, and made by London-based musicians whose ability to create American-styled music is every bit as worthy as that of their American cousins.