Making music that represents the essence of a people and their culture has been the mission of bluegrass, country, folk, Americana and roots rock artists spanning one generation to the next for centuries, and although it’s a lofty task to say the least, Jeffrey Halford & the Healers somehow do it seamlessly in their upcoming LP West Towards South, which is slated to be released via Floating Records this spring and features guest appearances from Mark Karan and Tom Heyman. With Bill MacBeath and Adam Rossi (the latter of which also produced the record with Halford and Don Zimmer) at his side, Jeffrey Halford dispenses a legendary lyrical bite in “Geronimo” and “Gallows” that will take your breath away on the spot. He pulls out the stops with the Healers in “The Ballad of Ambrose and Cyrus,” “Sea of Cortez” and “Willa Jean” to give up some of the smokiest folk music I’ve heard in the last decade, and in the songs “A Town Called Slow” and “Deeper than Hell,” highlights a hard rocking energy that infects the album with gritty grandiosity.
There’s a lot of muscle in this music, and one can’t help but daydream about how immensely absorbing each of these songs would be in concert. “Deeper than Hell” cries out from a stoic silence on the whim of a jazzy beat that slowly evolves into an all-out rambler of a folk-rock song, and when played live, I can see where the band could extend its harmonies into a medley with the title track and “Dead Man’s Hand.” There’s a shapeless groove in “A Town Called Slow” that I would bet on as a real crowd-pleaser late in any setlist, and though the adrenaline slows by the time we get into “The Ballad of Ambrose and Cyrus” at the end of the record, the effervescence of the melodies never fades to black, even when the tempo sinks into a somber sway. There’s more swagger here than there is sorrow, but if we analyze West Towards South as a complete work of art instead of ten different tracks forming an LP, not one of them overpowers another in the big picture.
I wasn’t very familiar with Jeffrey Halford & the Healers before now, but after listening to West Towards South at the insistence of a colleague, I must concede that they indeed have a unique style of Americana that sits a cut above the rest of their peers from one side of the country to the next. They don’t try to weigh down this album with a lot of unneeded polish, sonic showboating or useless political jargon in their lyrics (something that I’ve grown more than tired of among other roots records I’ve listened to in 2019). Instead, they package Americana so that we’re able to experience it in the way that it was always intended to be enjoyed; rich with vitality, unblemished by pop plasticity, and fully-loaded with homespun harmonies that aren’t produced from behind the soundboard. This is top shelf tonality if I’ve ever heard it, and it belongs on your stereo this April.
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