It may have taken Columbia/Charleston rockers Atlas Road Crew a few years to get that first full length LP under their collective belts, but the wait has been worth it. Polished and pro, Halfway to Hopkins was assembled under the direction of three different producers but it’s a distinction that’s hard to pick out from a casual listen; all the tracks are of the same mind, even when the genre expectations shift gears a bit. For the most part, the band does a notable job of trading up between both an alt and traditional rock sound with a southern bent. The style of modern rock imbued with a southern blues aethestic of a Kings of Leon is a good starting blueprint for comparisons, but the band has loyalties to older blues and southern rock like the Black Crowes or the Allman Brothers, too.
Album lead track “Voices” is straight up driving southern rock in the vein of Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, modern with a throwback nostalgia. The gritty vocals of Taylor Nicholson maneuver smoothly and fervently and he has an old soul sound projecting into that microphone that belies his young age. A great southern rock guitar motif leads up to the big splash of a radio ready chorus. Take the underlying keys that add dynamics but don’t distract from the obvious hooks and pump in a solo that jams but doesn’t over-extend it’s stay and you’ve got the complete package. “Black Eye Sunrise” has inventive bass work courtesy of Max Becker and develops into a moody song quickly. With a super-soulful chorus, the band gets into more poppy territory here and it never feels forced. “Low Country Blues” is a nod to the band’s current home base and it’s rollicking southern rock led by powerful slide guitar work and a boisterous piano. “Wasted Time” is a modern bluesy ballad with an excellent organ underpinning it all. Nicholson’s vocals trade in some serious emotional execution. “I Want You to Know” is Kings of Leon style, all powerful pop chorus and a classic rock guitar solo that never sounds contrived. “Lose Control” is an epic, spiraling rocker à la the Black Crowes and “Weeping Will” moves in the direction of a piano driven ballad with some melancholy hooks. The title track is a soulful pop song supported by some great power vocals that remind me of the Crowes’ Chris Robinson. Eight songs in and we’ve got this band figured out, right? Not quite, as the next track, “Runaway”, proves. Starting with an ’80s new wave synth feel, it’s a bit of an anomaly here, but in a good way. Quickly changing into a driving modern rock song, it’s a cool departure from the playbook they’ve developed in the preceding tracks and shows the bands ability not to stagnate their sound. “Abilene”, my favorite song in the collection, has an older alt rock sound (Collective Soul?) boosted by some shimmering keys. Well-used guitar effects send the mood into a dreamy, but driven blow to the listener’s head, both inside and out. Album closer, “Betty”, is one of the bands’ older songs and its straight up riff rock would please fans of both Blackberry Smoke or Dead Confederate.
Atlas Road Crew has definitely come a long way from their party band origins and I’m sure the near-constant touring has played a hand in their musical development. Guitarist Dave Beddingfield has well-played guitar parts but more importantly, thoughtful guitar parts; so much of the band’s sound hinges on melody and he and Bryce James (piano, organ) have inserted a prodigious amount into these songs for the listener to latch onto and ponder. Add the superior and totally poised lead vocals to the mix and this Crew should be travelling both to a show near you and straight to the top.
Recommended if you like: Kings of Leon, The Black Crowes, The Allman Brothers Band
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.