Gainesville, Florida’s Big Shoals is back with an impressive radio friendly sophomore long player,Hard Lessons. A trio I hold in high regard not only as solid dudes but steeped in spotless production and Howell’s headier than most lyrics come hard poetry. When I first felt the need to put my thoughts on records on record, I stumbled upon Lance Howell over the socialwebs via the ‘Lucero circle’ where I’ve met a great deal of awesome folks whom I regard as friends at this juncture. Howell (vocals, guitars), Jacob Riley (bass), and a former drummer at the time were set to release their debut effort Still Go On with Howell asking if anyone, known or unknown, was interested in reviewing their record. Having one whopping live show review under my belt, I reached out to Lance and threw my proverbial hat in the ring. I heardStill Go On and was floored. I cried, I rocked, I relished. That still holds true for Hard Lessons.
Big Shoals should be in equal plane with the Isbells and Stapletons, it’s Americana’s Americana, even if I can barely muster to type the hack term that immediately sends mental pictures of corny floppy hats and even floppier records. Howell, Riley, and new ace drummer Michael Claytor are the antithesis of all the current Americana bullshit. They are not in it for style, competition for tighter jeans and ironic outfits are not the stalwart. Emotional evacuations and real feeling fuel Howell’s songs, not an urge for the camera or a fresh pompadour with too many corny turquoise rings and a new found glory for John Prine…suckers.
The band has cleaned up its sound on Hard Lessons. Gone are the flashes of punk sneers, traded in for story telling transient numbers, well-crafted and posthumously aimed at the new found hope in adult contemporary interest a’la the aforementioned Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson ships – 3 of the best nonetheless, but three of the best well before garnering any attention from the so-called experts. Howell has had a new baby boy, Riley has moved away from Florida, but this band is stronger than ever with the addition of Claytor on drums, who’s a crack song writer himself. I can only imagine that may come to light on the next record. The addition of some sultry pedal steel runs pepper Hard Lessons like the sprinkles on the boys dessert sundae, Hard Lessons is a treat, indulge yourself accordingly -- Available here, now.
(No Depression 7/29/16)