BY FRED MILLS
Adapting his ensemble name from 2012’s sterling Ghosts of the Old North State, Jefferson Hart apparently drew inspiration for his new record from a brief but moving YouTube clip titled “Corolla Wild Horses on the beach in the snow — Outer Banks [North Carolina].” Which, when you think about it, isn’t all that obscure, given Hart’s track record; the 2012 album, in particular, was a striking slice of heartland Americana given a distinctive Tarheel spin. As that one was essentially a compilation of material spanning two decades, though, Corolla Ponies in the Snow comes across as necessarily more focused in the sense that it’s rendered by a working, contemporary ensemble. (Go HERE to read a review of the Ghosts… album.)
Abetted by a rock-solid rhythm section (bassist Symen Blumenfeld and drummer John Flowers) and an inventive lead guitarist (Brian Yamamoto), Hart serves up a strum-and-twang fest the likes of which you won’t likely hear this year unless Steve Earle and John Fogerty finally decide to go into the studio together. The group eases into the frame in deceptively low-key fashion via pedal steel-powered country rocker “Marigold” and the luminous, my-back-pages confessional title track. Pretty soon, though, we’re rolling—rollin’ on the river, in fact, with swampy choogler “Deep Water Girl,” which is quickly followed by the unabashed power pop of “I Feel Good About Us,” boasting a succinct-but-sublime electric 12-string break to die for. Any Byrds fans out there?
With the dynamics rich and varied, the band slipping easily between down-tempo and up- as the mood dictates, Hart expertly maneuvers through the emotional vicissitudes of his material. One moment he’s wryly humorous as he examines his situation (the T. Rex-like “I Ain’t Henpecked”); the next, he’s determined to “know the difference between living and love” as he regroups and tries to learn from his mistakes (the uptempo jangler “This Year Things Are Gonna Be Different”). And in “Swinging On A Scar,” even as the guitar sonics are moving into Kinksian raveup territory, the lyrics are turning decidedly dark and stormy. What’s more, each successive spin of the album brings out its subtleties and nuances, with the ensuing familiarity never threatening to yield to weariness.
Throughout, there’s a twinned world weariness and looking-forward optimism informing the 13 songs: knowledge accrued, knowledge secured, and knowledge conveyed.
Somebody here’s had a long journey. Lucky for us, he made the passage intact, and now we’re the beneficiaries of that knowledge.
DOWNLOAD: “This Year Things Are Gonna Be Different,” “I Feel Good About Us,” “Deep Water Girl”