In all honesty, when this album came across my desk, I honestly thought it was an oldies band. James and the Drifters – it has the ring of a band playing dusty classics from The Ventures, The Rivieras and Jan and Dean. Twangy Fenders buzzing as the floor tom is played fiercely and Dick Dale smiles approvingly from a distant growing wave in the distance. But once the first notes of “Florida” came pouring through my speakers, I knew I was completely wrong.The Huntington-based James and the Drifters play a breezy mix of acoustic folk and Americana, which is surprising because when you hear Before The Dawn: Otter Lake Sessions’ opening track, “Florida,” you get the vibe of Ezra Koenig fronting an At Dawn-era My Morning Jacket. Don’t let that description make you run and hide, because it’s quite a cool listen. “Be Strong” has a Band of Horses feel to it, laid back with a nice sway. These guys have a Southern lean to their sound, but the vocals keep things from getting south of the Mason-Dixon Line. “On My Way” has a country stomp and banjo pickin’ to boot, bringing to mind the Avett Brothers. There’s some barroom brawlin’ country swing going on in “Wild Women,” and a touch of swagger in the vocals that goes beyond these Drifters’ young-ish ages. “St. Sebastian,” the six-minute closing track, opens with distant bells ringing. It has a slow, steady build – not to an end, but a lilt. Great Band of Horses harmonies and guitar interplay make this one of the highlights in a group of many. If James and the Drifters build on this track for future albums, there’s no telling where these Huntington boys could go.
James and his Drifters are a bunch of young blokes that bring a spunk and vitality to a style of music that benefits greatly from it. Americana and dusty country folk, known more for it’s crusty patron saints that have lived and breathed a life of smoke, booze, women and knockdown drag-outs at 3 a.m. in Louisiana juke joints, has gotten a bit of a face lift in the last few years. Bands like Avett Brothers, Nickel Creek and Mumford & Sons, as well as more of the indie rock variety like My Morning Jacket, Frightened Rabbit and Band of Horses have given a new face to Americana and folk-inflected rock n’ roll. Locally, Lee Miles and the Illegitimate Sons and Dag and the Bulleit Boys have given credibility and a bit of class to a style of music with which class usually isn’t mentioned in the same sentence. You can now add to that list James and the Drifters, a bunch of young guys with dust in their beards and songs to sing.
Check them out at jamesandthedrifters.com and grab a copy of Before The Dawn: Otter Lake Sessions. You’ll be glad you did.
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