Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Massy Ferguson - Hard Water

Warren Zevon held the banner high until his death.  From 1978’s “Excitable Boy” through his 2003 swan song “Keep Me In Your Heart” Zevon epitomized the country folk rock synthesis with reflective, humorous, political and historical lyrics and a touch of vocals reminiscent of the some of the best and most successful folk rock balladeers or all time - Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Neil Young, the Jayhawks and Linda Ronstadt.   

When Zevon died the banner slowly fell to the ground.  By 2004 not even Browne, the Eagles, Young, the Jayhawks  or Ronstadt were producing new country folk rock music.  Browne was Running On Empty re-recording his past successes.  The Eagles were releasing a Greatest Hits album and vowing never to play live again unless Hell froze over. Young was performing his rock opera GreendaleThe Jayhawks had disbanded and Ronstadt was singing traditional jazz with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

No one picked up the banner for almost four years.  Some came to look at it.  A few kicked at it and several even tried to wave it a few times. But, it wasn’t until a group from the Pacific Northwest decided to clean it off and mend it that the country folk electric rock genre truly returned.  The band, Massy Ferguson, played with it on their first album Cold Equations. But they proudly hold Zevon’s banner high with the release of their second album Hard Water and  the legions of fans should be ready to follow.

Massy Ferguson, named after a tractor company, is comprised of Ethan Anderson, vocals/bass, Adam Monda, guitar/vocals, Tony Mann, keyboards and Dave Goedde, drums.  Anderson’s voice has a wonderful folk rock lilt -  a cross between the clarity of tone of Zevon and the snarl of John Hiatt.  Monda’s background vocals are spot on and his guitar work is melodic and inspired.  Mann knows when the keyboards should shine in, and when they should accent, the music.  Goedde’s drums are rock steady. 

Hard Water was completed in tragedy. Two days after the band heard the first mix for the album Mann’s 14-year-old son lost his life to a sudden and deadly form of meningitis.  The pain and devastation felt by the band carries through in the production values and adds a tragic, emotional and hopeful feel to the final edits. 

The album features rockers, ballads, observations and cautionary tales. Just like in Zevon’s best work, the band’s lyrics contain large scale visual dreams - Cold War imagery ("Sparks and Shrapnel"), true stories of a misguided Northwest militia ("Freedom County") tragic love songs ("Idle Threats and Cigarettes") and tales of regret (“Good Enough”.) This is a thinking man’s country folk rock, exactly the type lost in 2004.  Massy Ferguson brings it back, adds to it, and makes it even better. Where The Jayhawks left off Massy Ferguson begins.

Put this Seattle-based band on your “Must Watch” list.  Massy Ferguson plows fertile ground and produces a stellar harvest with Hard Water. To paraphrase the late Warren Zevon, this is a band to “keep in your heart.”

- Old School


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