Personnel: Michael Hobby (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica); Bill Satcher (acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Zac Brown (electric guitar, background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Justin Niebank.
Recording information: Low Country Sound, Nashville, TN; Southern Ground, Nashville, TN.
Illustrator: Alice Leese.
Photographers: Joseph Llanes; Scott Murphy ; Corey Wernecke.
Southernality is the hotly anticipated debut album from South Carolina's A Thousand Horses. The pre-release single "Smoke" made a long, steady run up various airplay charts to finally hit the top spot, an anomaly for a debuting artist. Produced by Dave Cobb, this 13-song set offers a smoother side of the group's fiery live persona that weds Southern rock to vintage Rolling Stones and Black Crowes and stomping honky tonk. Southernality is intentionally tempered by modern country's pop tropes. And there's no foul there. It's refreshing, actually. The band's core is frontman Michael Hobby, lead guitarist Bill Satcher, rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Zach Brown, and bassist/backing vocalist Graham DeLoach. They are fleshed out on-stage by five more pieces, including the excellent female vocal trio of Kristen Rogers, Whitney Coleman, and Brianne Angarole, and here by more studio players. The opening chords of "First Time" recall the Stones' intro to "Street Fighting Man" before cranking into a bluesy rave-up. "Heaven Is Close" begins as a simple love song with banjo, fiddle, and acoustic guitars offering a back-porch feel, but power chords, a fat snare and thudding kick drum, and gospelized female harmonies turn it into a Southern rocker. These cuts contrast sharply with the hooky, string-swept, lushly illustrated country-pop of "Smoke," whose metaphor equates unhealthy romantic obsession and tobacco addiction. "Sunday Morning," co-written with Rich Robinson, is a blustery love song with a crying slide and sweeping gospel overtones that make it a rock & roll hymn. Second single "(This Ain't No) Drunk Dial" is spirited pop-country with a distinct melodic hook and soaring, singalong refrain. "Tennessee Whiskey" pretty much follows suit. "Travelin' Man" is a thoroughly revisioned take of the song that appeared on A Thousand Horses' eponymously titled EP in 2010. "Landslide" pastes crunchy hard rock onto Southern R&B. "Back to Me," a thoroughly polished midtempo ballad, is the album's outlier. Unfortunately, it's followed by "Trailer Trashed," an all too familiar swaggering party jam marred by handclaps so massively compressed that they sound like drum loops. With its kaleidoscopic hook, expertly crafted crescendos, and a startling, in-the-round gospel backing chorus, "Hell on My Heart" could easily be another single. Though it might contain an excess track or two, Southernality is a fine debut. This band has been carefully molded for chart success without sacrificing its identity -- or revealing it fully, either. This album, as thoroughly enjoyable as it is, tells only part of the story. A Thousand Horses need to be witnessed live to be fully appreciated. It will be interesting to see what direction they take in the future and if that aspect of their persona is revealed on their records. For now, Southernality delivers on the band's modern country promise and warrants repeated listening. ~ Thom Jurek