The Upshot: Stealth moments of Americana, indie rock, and garage that are guaranteed to creep into your dreamscapes and line your waking activities, from a gifted NC trio.
BY FRED MILLS
Let us dispense with formalities and summarily count the ways: A rockin’ North Carolina—specifically: Charlotte, NC—twang/psych trio with classic ‘70s singer/songwriter and early ‘90s indie-rock smarts; ace guest turns from a slew of fellow NC virtuosos (among them, mandolin and fiddle ace John Teer, from Chatham County Line); recording sessions with Mitch Easter at his Fidelitorium studio, and mastering by Dave Harris at Charlotte’s Studio B. Sure sounds like a litany of TMOQ signage to this impartial observer. One hazards the statement that “And Friends” by Queen City trio Amigo is about as quintessentially Tar Heel as a Dean Smith tailgate party or a Sen. Sam Ervin memorial barbecue.
Okay, so maybe “this observer” isn’t exactly impartial, having seen the band awhile back—and in about as up close and personal a venue as it gets, during a record shop in-store performance. (Raleigh, NC, store Schoolkids Records, to be specific—the group loves breeding such intimacy, trust me.) So this reviewer doesn’t need much encouragement, having been a fan since 2014’s Might Could album: Frontman Slade Baird, drummer Adam Phillips, and bassist Thomas Alverson have the kind of musical mojo and natural stage charisma that’d create new friends whether appearing on a huge festival stage or sharing a post-gig beer at your local neighborhood pub.
There are elements of both classic and contemporary on “And Friends,” notably (for the former notion) the pedal steel, piano, and woodwind-adorned “I Wanna Live (UK Surf),” a stately, gently moving existential meditation that suggests a tuneful summit between Traffic and American Beauty-era Dead; and “Underground Medicine,” a full-tilt twang/garage raveup guaranteed to make those 2am last calls complete washouts as the audience absolutely refuses to let the group off the stage for another hour. Hey, next round’s on me, Slade.
Beyond that, there are stealth moments on this gorgeous collection that are guaranteed to creep into your dreamscapes and line your waking activities, from stunning opener “The Big Idea,” which conjures sonic memories of The Band (listen, in particular, for the Garth-like organ and some sinewy lead guitar); to an out-of-this-world cover of John Prine’s “Everybody” (did I use the word “raveup” yet in this review?); to a somewhat sneaky reprise of “The Big Idea” that gets retitled as “Almost Something Good” and is recast as a haunting acoustic guitar reverie eventually giving way to a lush country-rock arrangement.
Sings Baird, amid a swell of mandolin, pedal steel, guitar, bass, and drums: “What if I found something good? It’s just the way I feel – I only hesitate because the first time, it was almost something good. A little apprehensive ‘cause the last time was so fucked up.” As vulnerable a moment as you’re likely to encounter in this still-young new year—and a sentiment to let you know you’re not alone for the rest of this unfolding year as well. Lord knows, we’re gonna need some shoulders to lean on.
These guys, well… they’re your amigos.
Grab it on sweet heavyweight vinyl (w/download code included), folks, or on CD and digital should you require. You know what this reviewer recommends…
DOWNLOAD: “The Big Idea,’ “I Wanna Live,” “Underground Medicine”