Grass Routes
(independent, 2014)

Kingwhistler is an assemblage of musicians, a band in which various players move in and out as required by the song. The band reflects the direction of leader, singer and guitarist Nick Aliberti. Direction is the right word, because Grass Routes' central theme is the Great American Road Trip; the songs all in some way deal with the idea and the myth of the road.

At this point, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that Aliberti is a friend of the family and that I've followed his career both as a musician and as an actor for several years now. Nevertheless, trust me when I tell you Kingwhistler's first album is a fine disc, one that is more interested in presenting the music than in selling a singer.

Recorded live in the studio with few overdubs, as much analog as possible, and no MIDI or autocorrect, the album has an old-time rootsy vibe to it, with a nod back to the California folk-country-rock of the 1960s and '70s even as it looks firmly toward today and the future. You'll hear moments that remind you of the Flying Burrito Brothers, others that have a little of the old Bakersfield kick in them, even a touch of Springsteen influence. The influences, though, are just that; Kingwhistler does not imitate anyone. They are uniquely their own men, making use of musical traditions without ever being enslaved by them.

The sequencing of the songs on the album contributes to its unity. While each tune stands on its own, together they make up a totality that ties the album together, leaving you with a complete listening experience. It kicks off with "Oath," an uptempo, kickass rocker that sets the tone for the album, while the second song, "Hit the Road," announces the theme and blends perfectly into "Tree of Knowledge," which describes the payoff from the road. Each song that follows explores an aspect of the ideas already introduced.

The writing is fine with strong lyrics featuring original takes on classic themes. The arrangements, relying as they do on a floating band of musicians, are varied and imaginative. Electric guitars and Hammond organs live alongside dobros and mandolins. And Aliberti's vocals are spot on; as an actor, he knows how to sell a lyric, understands when and what to emphasize and when to lay back.

Grass Routes is a fine debut.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

26 July 2014

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