Artist: Urban Horse Thieves
Album: Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Label: I-Town Records
Website: http://www.urban horsethieves.com
Sounds Like: Gram Parsons, Jayhawks, countrified Rolling Stones
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 9/10
Best Songs: If I Could, Weights and Measures, Brave New World
This disc is rustic as a fall day yet infused with cowpunk edginess – sort of Gram Parsons meets early Jayhawks. Urban Horse Thieves create a cool Americana vibe, reminding me why this kind of music has long been such an important part of my life.
“End of the Fight” is the bouncy, jangly opener, a front-porch romp with a rock-steady groove. “Tumbleweed” comes next and builds from a unique viola riff to a driving rocker full of soaring sing-along vocals and airy pedal steel guitar.
On “Country Girls,” Joseph Prusch busts out the fiddle for a breakneck bluegrass romp. “Country Girls” also boasts image-rich urgent lyrics. The similarly-paced “UHT Theme” is wild and anthemic, almost bluegrass surf music.
“If I Could” is a standout – a song that is pretty, wistful, and catchy all at the same time, a tale of murder sung with aching vocals and ending with a haunting but too-short guitar solo. Another winner in this musical vein (but with more uplifting lyrics) is “Bring Your Toothbrush,” which sounds very much like Gram Parsons’ best country-rock numbers.
The following track, “Weights and Measures,” rocks like the Stones on Let It Bleed, with another spirited vocal take and careening fiddle and guitar. “Greenapple” also has a Stones-y crunch drench in nifty reverb guitar.
As I listened to “No Mountain,” I thought about how many of these songs could become stretched out jam vehicles in a live performance. “No Mountain” cooks like a good Yonder Mountain String Band tune, propelled by percussive banjo and acoustic strumming. Same with one of my favorites, “Brave New World,” a great shout-along number and the set’s boldest rocker (with a brief drum-led jam).Going back for another listen, I realize that this album is divided so the heavier rockers are on the second half. So the album comes sort of full circle with the eerie “Blood Waltz,” a nice finishing touch. And now Where the Rubber Meets the Road takes its rightful place among my stack of great country-roots-rock discs to revisit.