I’ve been stuck in a glass box of americana the past couple weeks. Between Cory Chisel, The Howling Brothers, and another I’m not allowed to talk about yet, I’ve been fairly steeped in rootsy music. Not that I can complain. When it’s done well, there’s nothing finer. So I wasn’t too broken up when I found the upcoming debut from The Illegitimate Sons in my inbox. They hail from Fort Wayne, Indiana, the same state I grew up in. I’m always happy to help fellow hoosiers, especially if it means it can get them the hell out of Indiana.
Not that these guys need my help. For a debut, American Music is ridiculously polished. Produced by the band’s guitarist Ben Porter, Illegitimate Sons have crafted a record that stands up with artists much further along in their careers. It’s clean, but not too clean. Pretty, but not soft. They weave these ten songs together pulling from the fabric left behind by Neil Young, The Jayhawks, and Townes Van Zandt. If you’re a fan of any of those, I think you’ll find something enjoyable here.
What sets this album above some others in its genre is that lyrically Illegitimate Sons go a little deeper than most. The songs cut right to the bone, and, as delivered by Lee Miles, they hit their target with great efficiency. I’ve often said that good music isn’t defined by what it’s about, but how it is about it (something I stole from Roger Ebert). With that in mind, I’ve often been unkind to bands who evoke Christianity overtly in their music. Here on American Music, I think there are about a dozen mentions of God, or The Lord, but it never bothered me once. When the music is sincere and I can feel it, I don’t concern myself with what it is their singing about. If a satanist band made a record this good, I’d be saying the same thing.
Getting into the specifics, my favorite song on the album is “Wholesaler.” It’s one of the more simple arrangements on the album, and could easily be stripped bare to vocals and acoustic while retaining its power. The added elements of accordion, backing vocals, and mandolin add some nice textures and underscore the emotion at the center of the song.
SOMEONE TELL MY MOTHER, I’M LEAVING IN THE MORNING/A TRAIN A THOUSAND MILES LONG, I BELIEVE I SEE IT COMING
SOMEONE TELL MY FATHER, THE BEATINGS NEVER LEFT/THEY’RE DEAD SOLDIERS MARCHING WITH ME, LIVING OFF OF GHOST MEAT
SORROW GROWS HEAVY ON STRANGERS’ SKIN/LIVING JUST TO KISS YOUR FACE AGAIN, KISS YOUR FACE AGAIN
SOMEONE TELL MY BROTHER, THE THIEVING’S GONNA END HIM/TAKING FROM LOVED ONES WHO WOULD’VE GIVEN TO HIM
SOMEONE TELL MY BABY, I LOVE HER LIKE THE GOOD BOOK/THOUGH I’M NOT A GOOD MAN SHE LOVES ME LIKE I WERE
On “You’ll Never Break This Cold Heart Of Mine” and “Janene” Ben Porter is really allowed to shine as the great guitarist he is. These back to back tracks kind of solidified my feelings on the record. They show that Illegitimate Sons grasp the lyrical and instrumental aspects firmly, and that they have the ability to create songs that deliver on both ends of the spectrum. Between Miles’ voice and Porter’s guitar, they can do virtually anything. Brett Gilpin also deserves some credit for providing a lot of the different instruments played that lay some of the groundwork for Porter and Miles to build upon.
The final track, “I Will Go Where You Go” is a sweet duet about devotion. Each line is repeated like a couple taking vows from one another, and the chorus is sung together as one.
I WILL GO WHERE YOU GO/I WILL BLEED WHEN YOU BLEED/I WILL TAKE NOTHING MORE/I WILL TAKE WHAT YOU NEED
ALL OF MY DAYS/I SING TO YOU/ALL OF OUR NIGHTS, ALL THE MUSIC IN ME/SUCH A TERRIBLE SIGHT
IN THE RED SKY/THE HARD TIMES/I GIVE TO YOURS/YOU GIVE TO MINE/AS THE OBESE WOMEN SING/I GIVE TO YOU THE ONLY THING/I HAVE LEFT TO GIVE/I’LL GO WHERE YOU GO
In the end American Music is about love, and that’s the only religion I’ve ever needed. This album speaks to the heart very eloquently. The Illegitimate Sons do a brilliant job of mixing their lyrics with their music, so much so that I have a hard time believing this is their first official full-length. They’re touring a little bit around Indiana, but I have a feeling they’ll be branching out a little further in the coming months, so keep your eyes peeled.