For the current crop of garage rockers its not 1965 anymore. Many of the bands who have been champions of scenes like the now virtually defunct San Francisco one have moved on from their raunchy roots to embrace a more sonically sophisticated 1969 feeling. Mikal Cronin and Thee Oh Sees have embraced lush string arrangements, The Fresh & Onlys have become a pop band, and Ty Segall’s decision to go acoustic on last year’s “Sleeper” had a tinge of the controversy that Dylan brought by famously deciding to do the opposite. Chances are if you were a lo-fi mainstay in 2009 you’ve upped the fidelity quite a bit by this year. Evidence of this especially rings true with the release of the fourth album by Nashville good ol’ boys Natural Child. On Dancin’ With Wolves the three piece has added two new members, keyboardist Benny Devine, and pedal steel player Luke Schneider, and has produced ten tracks of boozy, groovy, country bliss.
On their earlier releases Natural Child channeled the raw riffs that made their forbears superstars. Their debut album “1971” made no secrets of their influences with song titles like “Let It Bleed” and a stomping blues about an intoxicating lover named “Yoko.” Guitarist Seth Murray, Bass player Wes Traylor, and drummer Zack Martin pounded out southern flavored jams for two more records after that slowly moving out of the garage and into the studio. The two albums released in 2012, For The Love Of The Game and Hard In Heaven, show a band eager to put out music, and whose talent is increasing exponentially. Natural Child’s brand of country rock emphasizes a band with strong roots in the South. The twin lead vocal harmonies of Seth and Wes give the songs a jamboree vibe, and the grooves that the trio root themselves in are simultaneously rocking and rolling.
Dancin’ With Wolves keeps the rock n’ roll freight train choogling along, but is driven mainly by straight up country. Natural Child channels less of the Stones, and more of the likes of Waylon Jennings, JJ Cale, and the Allman Brothers. The album opener “Out In The Country” sits back into a lazy ride on the bayou. Devine’s keys punctuate Murray’s guitar gracefully, and the song feels like a summer evening jam session in a smoke filled houseboat. On the next track the boys remind you that they can kick it up a notch. “Don’t The Time Pass Quickly” showcases their new pedal steel player who hovers over the top of a racing rocker. Other standouts like “Country Hippie Blues” and “Saturday Night Blues” demonstrate the lyrical prowess of the Nashville crew. Natural Child’s stories are timeless, yet current. “Country Hippie” sees the longhairs explaining their pot smoking ways to their more straight-laced Nashville-ites. On “Saturday Night” the group explores the familiar feeling of being stuck at home on the weekend with no cash or prospects.
Most of the tracks on Wolves demonstrate Natural Child’s mastery of stoned down home blues. However, the band shows their range on the jazzy “Bailando Con Lobos.” Complete with Spanish lyrics the boys bounce around on a difficult timing, while the steel guitar whines hauntingly and the organ packs a punch of melody. There are few dull patches in the forty minute album. Unfortunately a brush track is much too heavy in the mix on Tom T. Hall’s “Nashville’s A Groovy Little Town,” the only cover on the record, to distract from an otherwise fun jangly tune. At other times when only one member steps up to the mic the sound loses some of it’s fullness; like on “Rounder.”
On the whole Natural Child’s Dancin’ With Wolves shows a mature and talented group of young musicians, who like their peers have had faith in their fans to be able handle more than just 1-2-3-4. Garage bands, given time, have always evolved into more, and with Natural Child Nashville rock n’ roll is in capable hands.