Social and environmental concerns imbue Acoustic Syndicate's mix of electric and unplugged banjos, dobros and guitars. The Cleveland County farmers' and bluegrass rockers' new LP, Rooftop Garden, is also haunted by The Grapes of Wrath everyman Tom Joad and his promise, "I'll be there in the way kids laugh when they're hungry... and when people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they built — I'll be there, too."
Sticking up for the dignity of work while decrying inequality, the Syndicate seems as ubiquitous as Joad, delivering their fire-in-the-belly populism with a deceptively gentle veneer. On this, the combo's first album in nine years, the jazzy horns of yore are replaced with buzzy, subliminal synths. Lead single "Heroes" mashes up Bruce Hornsby's breezy Americana with the blissed-out moog of '70s Kraut-rockers Harmonia.
Longtime frontman Steve McMurry splits the lead vocal and songwriting duties with cousin Bryon McMurry. Of the two, Bryon rocks harder. His "Coming in From the Cold" boasts distorted country blues guitar coupled to The Band's ragged-but-right harmonies. On "Bicycle Song," Bryon delivers the disc's goofiest lyrics and prettiest melody over loping mandolin and clattering percussion, and the title track's rebuke of class division sails serenely behind the gently rollicking stomp of the rhythm section.
Steve's lyrics are more on-the-nose than Bryon's, but too often his plain-spoken polemics thud to the earth like dirt clods. The workingman tropes of "Song for Me" are a self-obsessed road to nowhere. Yet even this low point is offset by a good-humored goof on Jerry Garcia's noodly fret board antics. On "Memphis Girls," the group leader shines. Over a chugging Johnny Cash rhythm, Steve's country-fried, Carl Perkins-style boogie actually raises the roof. Here, the Syndicate stops talking at its listeners and invites them into the conversation. Its heartfelt message hits home when the combo cuts loose, instead of trying to invoke the ghost of Tom Joad.
Where's Bubonik Funk?? Charlotte's best!!
I am confident that one person's snarky review will not sway the many Coston fans…
The writer of this article apparently has an underlying agenda against the book author. I…