What determines a hit? Obviously nobody really knows for certain, or we’d all be millionaires with our songs saturating the airwaves from sea to shining sea. There are, however, a few timeless concepts in the music world that guide an artist or producer in focusing their project in a certain direction. And in listening to the new CD It Ain’t Easy by Rhode Island band The Mighty Good Boys, one such truism comes to mind – the concept of accessibility. Despite whatever genre a band tackles, is the material palpable to a wide enough audience to be a success? In the case of this amazingly talented American roots-rock / bluegrass / mountain-music act, the answer is a resounding yes. And with a style so eclectic and far removed from today’s concept of pop, the waves these guys are making on a relatively young audience is nothing short of impressive and DEFINITELY not easy.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, The Mighty Good Boys are not merely some Bill Monroe also-rans. On any given night, they can be found on stage pulling out a hard driving country-rock extravaganza that undoubtedly has Duane Allman smiling down in approval. But the focus of the all-original It Ain’t Easy is clearly a stripped-down version of their sound, with a huge nod to some veritable Appalachian-mountain-folk influences, which remain authentic as well as accessible throughout.
The Mighty Good Boys consist of founding member Corey Millard on vocals, guitarist Travis Conaway, Benny Tilchin on banjo, Jeff Kidd on harmonica, and the rhythm section of Mike Walker and Nick Carr. Right from the disc’s first track, the frenzied rollicking “Working Man,” it becomes quite apparent that as musicians these guys are super tight. Another immediate standout element is Corey Millard’s vocals. In an earnest voice that just hints at an ever-so-slight cry, Millard’s eloquence easily equals that of The Band’s Rick Danko (just listen to his verses in “The Weight” or “Ain’t No More Cane” and tell me if I’m not wrong.) “Ain’t no doubt I’m a workin’ man – Make my living with my hands – Leaves me hard and money drained – And morning’s but a boozy pain.”
Things slow down a bit with the old-timey sing-a-long “Chicago.” In an innocently subconscious country reworking of “A Fool Such As I,” the boys lay down an infectious gang vocal refrain of “Been gambling lives, for a price you cannot name – But I’ll meet you in Chicago all the same … ,” which had me singing along, despite my best efforts to resist.
And while on the topic of sing-a-longs, the album ends with the sardonic “Don’t Be A Martyr.” With gin-soaked verses and drunken choruses, the track seems to sum up what The Mighty Good Boys are, in one 2-minute and 57-second inebriated opus. “I should have got a typewriter when I was feeling lighter – I could have got me a woman, and lost her , and then wrote a book to spite her –
Don’t be a martyr, just try harder Don’t be a martyr, just try harder, I’m telling you.” After your 10th shot of Popov, that logic makes perfect sense.
If pressed to describe The Mighty Good Boys’ latest CD It Ain’t Easy, one could use all those aforementioned labels of Appalachian-roots mountain-rock folk-a-billy ….WHATEVER. In the end, the band has a unique, highly accessible approach to songwriting and performance. And like so many who’ve come before them, they’ve done this by going back to that perennial well of inspiration that is simply American music.