Dallas-Based Rockers The 40 Acre Mule Kick a Big Impression Via ‘Good Night & Good Luck’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The Dallas-based outfit The 40 Acre Mule is all about the traditions and evolution of American music from the early days of boogie-woogie into ‘50s R&B into good old rock n’ roll, naturally infused with blues as well as rockabilly and country. Good Night & Good Luck is their debut album. The title does not reflect a song within the album but conjures up either an old baseball saying, or, more likely a parting statement to a friend after spending a long night in a bar. Surely, it’s the bars and dives where the band got its start, building to a high draw festival act without the benefit of an album. Now they have one.

They are a five-piece unit, self-described as a “Rhythm & Blues Outfit.” They are more raucous than that moniker indicates. They are a roaring powerhouse. They claim to be influenced by the early pioneers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Ray Charles but they also take their cues from contemporary folks like J.D. McPherson, Nathaniel Rateliff and Gary Clark Jr.The 40 Acre Mule has a dense, thick sound due in part to the baritone sax, a common instrument in early R&B bands, that fills the bottom. They are J. Isaiah Evans (guitar and vocals), Robert Anderson (drums) Tim Cooper (bass), John Pedigo (guitar and vocals) and Chris Evetts (baritone sax and percussion).  All songs were written by band leader Evans and arranged by the band. Evans has a high vocal wail that somewhat recalls the late Steve Marriott of Humble Pie and traces of Little Richard too. There’s plenty of thunder and little subtlety in their attack, apparent in the opener “You Better Run.”

The band, formed in 2015, go their big break by attracting the notice of bands like The James Hunter Six, The Reverend Horton Heat, Rosie Flores, Alejandro Escovedo, and more. Reverend Horton Heat gave them an opening slot at a sold-out show at Dallas’ legendary Bomb Factory and the band’s trajectory has steepened since.  They have signed with the same label, State Fair Records, as emerging Texas acts Joshua Ray Walker and The Vandoliers. 

The band’s signature sound is perhaps best displayed in the single “16 Days,” taken at a blistering tempo with fiery guitar lines, and propulsive rhythms. You can certainly hear some of the vintage influences here, especially toward the end when they slow it down before building to an explosive ending. “Shake Hands With the Devil” is appropriately menacing. “Wake Up Your Mind” takes a shuffle groove that morphs into the wild interplay between the guitars and bari sax. “Be With Me” is more restrained  R&B.

”Side B” begins with the impassioned plea for a lover to return home with the line – “I’m feeling somethin’ next to nothin’ since you’ve been gone.” “I’ll Be Around” has Evans reciting lyrics against danceable grooves laid down by polyrhythmic drumming and percussion.  A key element of The 40 Acre Mule sound is pushing momentum and building to crescendos. Yet, just as we feel we have a handle on Evans’ writing and the ban’s approach, Evans offers the ballad-like narrative “Hat in Hand,” replete with twisted, dissonant guitar work and psychedelic keyboards from guest Chad Stockslager. “Bathroom Walls” returns to the Little Richard styled R&B, with furious bari blowing from Evetts. “Josephine” is not the Bartholomew/Fats Domino chestnut but carries some of that early Fats and Chuck Berry feel, again with fine soloing from Evetts and, like the other song, a singalong chorus with several contributing.

It’s easy to see why The 40 Acre Mule has become a popular live act. Their music is energetic, highly danceable, and perfect for a rowdy night. Heck, it’s perfect for your car radio too. There aren’t many bands today that are as adept at merging the old-school sound with contemporary flourishes.

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