Album review: Slamming Doors have talent to spare
The Iron Range hasn’t ever really been known as a hotbed of original music, but due to several factors that have to include the rise of the Internet and the growth of the Homegrown Festival, bands from that region have recently been getting more attention in the Twin Ports. Before, Da Range was the other side of the moon — now it’s just a hop, skip and a jump away.
But the music that comes from there still feels more rustic and more rural. The Slamming Doors’ new album “Road Beneath the Wheel” definitely doesn’t sound like a Duluth album, but it’s all the better for it.
Really, this album’s a bit of a shocker. On the surface, it seems to be a collection of quite well-made country-rock with Southern overtones, but there are passages that go far beyond that into the realms of prog, bluegrass, pop, gospel and more.
Take the first track, “Dirty Work,” for instance. The intro sounds like something off Yes’ “Fragile” LP, until it veers suddenly into an easygoing noir-blues. “So much can get lost between the head and the heart,” vocalist Adam Herman sings. He’s got a husky croon reminiscent of, oh, say, Gregg Allman. It’s the kind of vocal approach one doesn’t hear much anymore, but it fits him like a glove.
As the song unwinds, you’re introduced to the insanely good pedal steel of Mike Randolph and the tasteful keyboards of Craig Skalko. Really, bar none, these guys are pros. They play their instruments perfectly but not without personality, and they never overdo anything. Their tones are impeccable.
“Lucky” marries Randolph’s pedal steel to the lead guitar of Pat Hawkinson, who is also no slouch, filling the tune with clean Jimi Hendrix-like funk jabs. Drummer Matt Johnson lays way back and then deploys a cowbell at just the right moment.
“Clover” finds Hawkinson on banjo, with Randolph and Skalko coloring everything else in with neon flourishes. It’s bluegrass-y, but it doesn’t sound like so many Johnny-come-latelies with banjos, these days. The Slamming Doors play this stuff like it’s second nature.
Herman earns his lyrics in the same way. “Meant to Fall” features lyrics that would be cliché in the hands of any of the bro-country lame-o’s that are winning CMT awards, but Herman can somehow pull off lines about dancing in the rain, drinking beer and staying up too late without sounding like a poser. This is a real feat. And bassist Craig LaSart anchors the whole thing with his loosey-goosey playing.
The band’s music might not appeal to everyone. Hipsters beware, let’s just say. This is for people who don’t like things ironically, or who aren’t worried about what Sky Ferreira is up to. This is for people who like Alan Jackson but also like Phish and gospel music.
Basically, this is some of the best musicianship that the region has to offer, particularly when it comes to Randolph’s pedal steel, which is mind-bogglingly amazing. And the fact that the band themselves recorded the thing in a garage is also hard to fathom, as it sounds like something that easily could’ve come out of some high-priced Nashville studio.
“Road Beneath the Wheel” is a huge achievement by a group that has chemistry and talent to spare. While the songs may not always shine as brightly as the instrumental interplay, the musicianship on this thing is a must-hear. One of the year’s best.
The Slamming Doors / “Road Beneath the Wheel”
Recorded and produced by: Pat Hawkinson and The Slamming Doors
Personnel: Adam Herman (vocals/acoustic guitar), Pat Hawkinson (lead guitar/banjo), Mike Randolph (pedal steel guitar), Craig Skalko (keyboards), Craig LaSart (bass), Matt Johnson (drums)
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.