In a world of auto-tune and pitch-perfected records being literally vomited out of studios, you’ll literally feel blessed that we have Australia’s Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders in keeping our feet grounded in real, honest-to-goodness Americana based music. Call it rock, country, folk, or even blues – at the end of the listen, its damn good music. There’s only a handful of truly talented folks making the records that I love to listen to, and Billy Roberts ranks very near the top, period. The project’s latest album “The Southern Sessions” offers up some very tasty, tried-and-true sounds, and it works perfectly.
You just won’t regret this organic record in the computer age. And if like me, you felt a special attraction for the sadly departed Tom Petty, then Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders is about as close as you will ever come to that raw, moody and visceral sound that mesmerized millions of fans worldwide.
I find every one of the songs on this album, originating from important and poetic lyrics, a wonderfully talented band to play them, and Billy Roberts’ nuanced and heartfelt delivery. Writers from the American south have always had a special voice, and a special relationship with their complicated, turbulent and sometimes dark history, but for an Australian to capture that same aesthetic is something magic.
“The Southern Sessions” manages to combine a modern Americana/Rock sound with a solid musical underpinning from the past. This is a sound we’ve heard before but recorded with a freshness and verve that uplifts and emotes the listener.
A beautiful example of this is the opening song “Hillbilly Blues”, which over and above the classic rock instrumentation, adds a heavy dose of reverberating horns. The album continues with the bouncy Country-inflected “No More Mr Nice Guy” and “My Baby Gone Cold”, against ringing guitars, shimmering keys, and the band firing on all cylinders.
The first real Tom Petty-like moment, occurs on “Special”, the similarity to Tom’s vocal nuances will stop you in your tracks, and evoke all kinds of ghosts in your mind. I personally kept playing this over and over again. Terrific song.
Easily comparable to the greats of the Americana songwriter world, Billy Roberts showcases his skill as a songwriter with the rocking “Seen It All Before,” a perfect, Petty-Dylan like song, with honest, pointed lyrics.
The intoxicating thing about this album is that the songs are able to transcend their legendary influences. That sort of expectation can be a challenge to live up to, but for some reason Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders continue to sally forth, upping the ante in all aspects of their craft. Acoustic guitars and mellifluous vocals abound on “Kayla”, as it does on “Gone To The Dogs”.
“Driving” is triumphant in its topical resonance, drawing influence from the timelessness of lyrical curiosity. Whether delivering heartfelt lines on a hoped-for relationship in “With You”, or the nostalgic, fiddle-assisted ruminations intimating the sentiment of leaving home, on “I Was Young”, each is given an equal shake, and that makes Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders songs earnestly powerful.
On, “The Southern Sessions”, the band’s tempered backbone emerges as crucial, tastefully driving the Americana aesthetic in the form of steady drums, resonant guitars and contemplative bass lines to fill in the blanks around the melodic outlines.
Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders deliver the freshest sound to emerge from the nexus of Americana and rock in many years. Their music is articulate and rocking, simple and yet able to present complex ideas; rooted in the past with their eyes and hearts fixed firmly on the future.