(Self-released, CD, digital download)
For the past several years, Hillside Rounders have rambled and roamed, bringing barroom twang to the juke joints of the Green Mountains. As evidenced by their self-titled 2012 debut, the Rounders are polished purveyors of classic country and roots music. And the band's slick skill matches its affinity for old-school Americana.
Unfortunately, the Rounders recently announced that they're taking an indefinite hiatus. More often than not, that term is bandspeak for "breaking up." Though with the Rounders, that may not actually be the case. For one thing, they're a family band, consisting of brothers Jeremy (rhythm guitar and lead vocals) and Rich Sicely (lead guitar) and their father, bassist Mike Sicely. Rounding out the quartet is a brother-from-another-mother, banjo player Luke Auriemmo. So, unless there's some Oasis-like family drama behind the scenes, it's a good bet we'll hear from the Sicelys again in some form or another.
In the meantime, the Rounders have released a sophomore album, Lightning in a Bottle, that should keep fans satisfied for a while. With any luck, it's not a farewell record.
As on their debut, the bulk of Lighting is a mix of well-known covers and traditional tunes. And again, each is performed with immaculate precision and attention to detail. The Rounders rarely stray from recognizable arrangements, but their recitation isn't rote. Though they largely play it straight on classics such as "Long Black Veil," "Sin City" and "I Know You Rider," their renditions are uniquely charming.
Much of the credit for this goes to Jeremy Sicely. He's blessed with a clean, expressive tenor that's well suited to the material. And his mild drawl comes across more as affection than affectation. His performance on Gram Parsons' "Sin City," in particular, is smooth and emotive.
But the real treasure here is guitarist Rich Sicely. He was a monster on the band's debut, and he's only grown better. His chicken pickin' on opener "Good Old Mountain Dew" is worth the price of the record.
Lightning differs from its predecessor in offering a trio of original tunes, composed by Jeremy Sicely. These close the record. If you didn't know better, you might think that "Old Guitar," "Picture on the Wall" and "Hillside Rounder" were covers, too. That's how well they blend into the preceding collection of pseudo-standards.
Sicely is clearly schooled in classic country songwriting, and his tunes deliver whiskey-drenched heartbreak and blue-collar swagger in equal measures. If Lightning in a Bottle is indeed the end for Hillside Rounders, these Sicely originals would make for fine consolation.
Lightning in a Bottle by Hillside Rounders is available at CD Baby.