Album Review: J.B. Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Watch America Roll By

C.M. Wilcox | May 7th, 2009

JB Beverley and The Wayward DriftersAlthough country music has been called the white man’s blues, you won’t hear much of that legacy on mainstream country radio, which seems more infatuated by the windblown frivolity of the Eagles. For real insight into the country-blues connection, you need to look to someone like J.B. Beverley.

Beverley, who heads up the Virginia-based honky-tonk outfit The Wayward Drifters, might seem like an unlikely source for such knowledge. After all, his background is in punk rock: The founder of bands like The Bad Habits and The Little White Pills, he’s even served stints as frontman for The Murder Junkies, the former band of the late GG Allin.

As a music fan, though, Beverley is an admirer of Jimmie Rodgers and Jimmy Martin, Hank Williams and Howlin’ Wolf, and these are the influences that permeate his work with the Wayward Drifters.

The band’s sophomore album hits shelves next week, and in the grand tradition of the blues, Watch America Roll By often feels like a series of duets in which one of the voices happens to be instrumental. In the blues, it’s usually a guitar that does the talking, helping the anti-hero give voice to his pain. With the Wayward Drifters, it’s more often the banjo of Dan “BanjerDan” Mazer, a veteran musician whose mastery of additional instruments like mandolin and Dobro makes him the resident virtuoso. The trio is rounded out by the bass-slapping backbone of the group, a hell-raising ex-cop named Johnny Lawless. For this studio recording, they supplement their sound with guest musicians on mandolin, electric and steel guitars, and fiddle.

For Beverley, who traded in his own train-hopping habit to become a touring musician, travel is understandably a major preoccupation. Whether by automobile in “Interstate Blues” and the title track, by train in “Gonna Ride a Train,” or even by foot when he gets desperate enough (“Walked Across Texas”), the most important thing is to keep on moving. Ole Hank surely would’ve understood, so it’s fitting that Beverley also tips his hat to that quintessential rambling man with a Luke the Drifter style recitation titled “End of the Road.”

Since the rambling life doesn’t typically lend itself to stable relationships, it’s no surprise that women are portrayed as devils at worst and opportunities to get the blues at best. Both “Thanks for Giving Me the Blues” and “Me and My Blues” find Beverley moving on in the wake of failed relationships, with the latter including the quiet vow that “It’s been me and my blues most my life/I don’t need no money, sure as hell don’t need no wife.” Even the one sweet ballad here has some of its dysfunction writ large in the title: “Favorite Waste of Time.” Thanks, honey?

As you might expect, beneath it all there’s an infectious undercurrent of punk attitude. Indeed, the very fact of recording an album about rambling and no-good women in an old country blues style is, in itself, implicitly an F.U. to everything that’s happening in mainstream country today. The closest Beverley gets to making this statement directly is the disarmingly wry “They’ll Only Play My Music When I’m Dead,” which finds the possibility of posthumous success leading Beverley to wonder whether he should “eat some lead” so as to expedite his mother’s retirement.

That same gift for bluntness shows up in the kiss-off of the aptly titled “I Don’t Give a Damn,” in which he tells a returned ex-flame to hit the road in no uncertain terms:“I’ve had my nose busted up and my shoulder and my knuckles too/But I’d chop off every finger I’ve got if it’d keep me safe from you.” Although it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which chopping off all of his fingers would keep a man safe from an ex, the sentiment is clear enough: when your presence elicits threats of self-mutilation, it’s probably time to go. He’s just not that into you.

Punk infiltrates the music itself on the proud “Don’t Need No One,” a Little White Pills live staple reconfigured as a sprightly bluegrass-tinged acoustic raver. You haven’t really told someone off until you’ve shouted “I don’t need no one and I don’t need you” at the top of your lungs–preferably with a group of other people at your back. It doesn’t matter if it’s not entirely true (certainly everyone needs someone, right?), it’s just plain empowering to spit those words from your mouth, punctuating them perhaps with a spirited pump of the fist. Because there’s a little punk in everyone.

I don’t know if they’ll play this music when J.B. Beverley is dead, but you’ll have the option of playing it yourself next Tuesday. If you pass it up, you’ll be missing out on one of the year’s most infectious indie offerings. Let’s hope these bus wheels keep rolling down the highway for a long time to come.

4 Stars

4 Pings

  1. [...] My review of the sophomore album from J.B. Beverley & the Wayward Drifters went up at The 9513 this morning (a partial explanation for the quiet here yesterday). Since I didn’t have a blog back in 2006 when I discovered the band’s debut album, though, I’ll go ahead and take a minute to recommend that one as well. [...]
  2. [...] Speaking of reviews, JB Beverly and the Wayward Drifters had a great one written about their new album to be released May 12th, “Watch America Roll By”, on the9513.com. [...]
  3. [...] 2009 Album Review: J.B. Beverley and the Wayward Drifters – Watch America Roll By Trace Adkins – “All I Ask for Anymore” Phil Vassar – “Bobbi With an [...]
  4. [...] Songs about getting the blues from no-good women, hitting the road (or hopping a freight), and successfully outrunning everything but your own damn pride have seldom sounded as good – or as alive – as they do in the capable hands of Virginia-based honky tonk outfit J.B. Beverley and the Wayward Drifters. Who says you can’t have new fun with old subject matter? Read my The 9513 review here. [...]
  1. Juli
    May 7, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Great review, CM. This album is getting heavy rotation at Casa Juli, despite–or maybe because of–the macabre finger chopping thing.

  2. Rick
    May 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Well Juli, at least now we know what kind of man you prefer…(lol)

  3. J.B. Beverley
    May 7, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for the nice review, CM. I am going to go share it with folks. Hope to see you out west this summer. -JB

  4. Dan Mazer
    May 8, 2009 at 12:58 am

    Very nice review. Thanks very much!

  5. Leigh-Ann Beverley
    May 8, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Nice review…Love it, and love you guys. Feed the Dream!!

  6. Saving Country Music
    May 8, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Great review! Glad to see these guys get some pub!

  7. merlefan49
    May 11, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Can’t wait to hear it!

  8. drew lamica
    July 25, 2009 at 10:54 am

    great review.. great band..

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