Wow, the first great South Carolina release of 2014 has come barging through the front door and has taken no prisoners; Charleston’s Dunder Chiefs’ eagerly anticipated long player is a fierce musical declaration built out of passionate trips through their home in the Palmetto state. On “Kicking Rocks”, the bands’ sound has evolved a little, with a more polished production courtesy of Archer Avenue Studios and the addition of more prevalent bass, drums and trumpet work. They are still the owners of their own genre, “soulgrass”, their perfect inspired marriage of bluegrass with a soulful R&B feel. The usual comparisons apply here; if you like the Avett Brothers or the Band, you will probably find something familiar in the sound of the Dunder Chiefs. This time around, I started to feel some of the style of English folk rock legend Roy Harper in the mix, but in the end the Chiefs have their own niche covered.
Starting off with the flawless harmonies of “Busker Blues”, the band throws out peak banjo power and faultless hooks. “The Fix” is more of a laid back story-song, with the lyrical hard focus on Carolina details starting to take form, which will occur throughout the album. The band does a great job of starting to build a Carolina mythology, with stories about their times spent here growing into a network of tales: “That Holy City choir/ Will be ringing us in” (from “Life in A-Minor”) and “Carolina/ My Home” (from “Blacktop Calling”) evoke the Carolinas and most of the record is gently hypnotic in places, with a cool, slow feel evoking our state. This is quiet, wandering spiritual bluegrass at times, with an almost post rock feel gliding through all the picking. After the first few songs more upbeat vibe, “Blacktop Calling” is a somber ballad with slow playing behind a plaintive harmonica solo. “Bye Bye to the Blues” celebrates a peaceful surrender to happiness. “La Muse” pulls off an R&B-style ballad combined with an almost ambient style. The lo-fi beginning of “Luci” leads into some boogie/ bluegrass with horns thrown in for added measure. Not until the “Sympathy for the Devil”-style backing vocals appear will anyone be guessing the real name of “Luci”, which is a nice touch. “The Wave/ Wildfire” is the albums closer, an epic piano ballad with the requisite perfect harmonies and some more horns.
Like the Dunder Chiefs themselves, “Kicking Rocks” is laid back but full of emotion. The title suggests the lackadaisical atmosphere correctly, but it also has a connotation of an important journey, just not one taken at breakneck speed. Take a slow little trip with the Chiefs and see for yourself.
Recommended if you like: The Avett Brothers, Roy Harper, The 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.