Personnel: Timothy Steven Corey Parsons, Jeffrey David Salter (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Stephen Alan Pierce II (vocals, banjo); Mary Beth Richardson (vocals, kazoo, tambourine); Jeffrey "Danny" Vines (upright bass, electric bass); Randy Taylor Wade (drums, percussion).
Photographer: Albert Kuhne.
The tricky thing with most roots rock acts in the 21st century is they're not always sure just how hard to hit -- too gentle and their music loses its strength, too hard and the results sound like some sort of overcooked greaser parody. Banditos, the self-titled debut album from these Alabama-to-Nashville transplants, confirms this is one band that's found the sweet spot and knows how to work it; these folks look and sound like a gang of outlaws, tough and not afraid to throw down the gauntlet, but they also know about a thing called dynamics, and their fusion of country, rock, gospel, jazz, and blues is filled with just enough space to give all the parts breathing room. They can go whisper-quiet on a late-night paean to sneaking around like "Ain't It Hard," rock on out on the rockabilly-infused "Still Sober (After All These Beers)," make with some hot-wired boogie on "The Breeze," scamper with ragtime jazz on "Long Gone, Anyway," or stretch out on a slow blues like "No Good" or "Old Ways" and approach each with just the right measure of sweat, muscle, and instrumental skill. And these folks have chops to match their attitude; lead guitarist Jeffrey Salter can lay out potent solos in any number of styles, Corey Parsons and Stephen Pierce lend worthy support on guitar and banjo, bassist Danny Vines and drummer Randy Wade lay down the groove with style and efficiency, and lead singers Parsons, Pierce, and Mary Beth Richardson can wail with smarts and precision. (Richardson in particular is the rare singer who can evoke Janis Joplin without sounding foolish or arrogant.) Banditos know when to reel it in or blow it out, how to make the right sounds, and how to write songs that reflect their eclectic tastes, and they've made an album where they strut their stuff in a confident, straightforward, and very satisfying fashion; Banditos are one of the most promising roots music discoveries in quite some time, and this album is a genuinely impressive introduction. ~ Mark Deming