If there can be such a thing as a modern old-school country band, central Vermont's Stone Cold Roosters are it. The group's debut, Out of the Woods, is righteously old-fashioned, yet the disc has a sonic richness more common to today's rock and r&b records.
Led by production guru, songwriter and sideman extraordinaire Colin McCaffrey, the band has its Western-style licks down, well, cold. Fiddler Thal Aylward, drummer Roy Cutler, pianist/organ man Chuck Eller, resonator guitar player Ted Mortimer, steel guitarist Jim Pitman and McCaffrey are all seasoned musicians with long CVs. Ensemble playing requires a high level of attention and sensitivity, qualities these players have in spades.
Although this is their debut disc, the Roosters have been crowing for nearly six years. But as members have been busy with numerous other projects, there's been little time to make a proper recording. Fans of country and Americana should be glad they finally got around to doing so.
Woods opens with the barnstormer "Gotta Learn How to Dance," which recounts the travails of a suitor with two left feet. The players sound so accomplished, it's easy to picture them making a serious dent in the Nashville session scene.
"What in the world was I thinkin' / What in the world was I drinkin' when I said goodbye," McCaffrey sings on "I Went and Let a Good Love Die," a surprisingly jaunty tale of romance gone wrong. The tune features highly proficient solos from pretty much everyone in the band. Unfortunately, they're somewhat lacking in the passion department.
"Your Feet Look Good" is a rockin' country number with a boogie-woogie bass line and swing-style call-and-response vocals. And yes, it is an ode to a lady's ambulatory extremities.
Jim Pitman's "Well Swung" is a feisty instrumental that wouldn't sound out of place in a Prohibition-era saloon. Fiddler Aylward's solo is joyful and exuberant, Pitman's steel work clever as all get-out. The rhythm section is equally excellent, providing a surefooted counterpoint to the tune's frisky changes.
"Happy as a Pig in S**t" aims for the funny bone, but is weighed down by a syrupy, "big country" arrangement and Mortimer's quavering vocal. McCaffrey's "Gettin' Sideways," on the other hand, is terrific, featuring subtle spy-movie riffs and deliberate dissonance. "My tattooed woman ain't comin' home / And I can't call her 'cause I shot the phone," McCaffrey croons. It's by far my favorite cut on the disc and will likely find a permanent home on my iPod.
The rest of the record's 12 tunes are solid, with nary a note out of place. I bet there won't be any musical missteps at their CD release party, either. Find out for yourself this Saturday, May 5, at the Middle Earth Music Hall in Bradford.