THE HALEM ALBRIGHT BAND

 

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   Thursday night I missed both Moon Taxi shows in town, but things turned out alright in the end… or should I say Albright! Later in the evening I strolled into the Green Room and caught a good chunk of a set from the Halem Albright Band (H.A.B), who absolutely lit the place on fire. The shear number of jam bands in Athens never ceases to amaze me, and still more amazing is that each of them have their own distinct sound; not once I have found myself saying, “This sounds just like…” or “Didn’t I see these guys last night?” H.A.B. was no exception to that trend, and by the time the show was over, I found myself, jaw dropping, loving another band.

   After the show I spoke with guitarist and frontman, Halem Albright, who hooked me up with a copy of his 2012 album, Don’t Listen to Me, which has now been on repeat the last few days. Predating the 2013 formation of H.A.B, Halem’s solo release is a work of major collaboration between some top-notch local musicians and producers (John Keane, Jeff Mosier). The results are an impressive, highly polished sound that presents an eclectic, but masterful blend of instruments and styles that takes listeners on a kind of musical road trip.

   As the album plays through, one can imagine gazing out of a car window at the changing environment rolling by; being aware of the distinct environments, but understanding the whole picture as part of one journey. The pacing of the album matches this sentiment well, driving forward with relaxed, but energetic drum beats that fall anywhere on spectrum from dance to rock steady, but aren’t afraid to get real tight and complex when the moment is right. Over this, the range of melodic influences are just as vast, using a blend of electric and acoustic to play blues, reggae, southern and classic rock, and even a little bit of that wistful western sound, too. Featured instruments include flute, banjo, violin, several types of organ, harmonica, and a horn section, broadening the diversity even further.

   Halem Albright shows his versatility as a guitarist and singer on this album, showcasing his talent without showing off. The melodies and soloing achieve a more structured tone than plain noodling on the guitar, keeping things interesting and grounded through some of the more lengthy tracks. He also creates some wild noises; every now and then a siren will scream through the music, and it takes moment to realize it came from the guitar. The vocals are well harmonized and pristine, allowing the lyrics to be just as relevant as any other part of each song. While Halem shines through, every instrument featured gets to have its moment, making for a tasteful and balanced total composition that keeps the album interesting over multiple listens. It can be dangerous to give comparisons to bigger names, but for anyone who needs a little orientation, blend up Phish with String Cheese Incident and some of the jazzier Lotus, throw in the lyrical consciousness of Twiddle, and you’re in the right ballpark.

   Don’t Listen to Me has been thoroughly enjoyable so far, and I look forward to catching more of H.A.B. in the future. Their live presence is much different. As a four-piece, they ramp up the energy to a much more heavy-dancing level, taking time to do some serious shredding and extended jams. Worth mentioning is that the Green Room was fairly empty when I saw them, and they still raged their set. Respect to bands who still give everything to tiny crowds; they got me moving! It would be interesting to see what an album from H.A.B. would sound like after performing together for a year or two now.

  Athens, Georgia's own Halem Albright Band's new album, Through Human Eyes, is a welcoming collection of eclectic, country-fried jams. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has caught one of their performances in and around the Atlanta area. Guitarist and vocalist Halem Albright's playing style brings to mind the legendary Duane Allman's melodic fretboard licks, which are apparent right away from Through Human Eyes opening track "Endless Love Race." Shredding through multiple solos, Halem takes a backseat midway-through for a groovy piano ditty from keyboardist Spencer Pope.

  "Wasting all that time in love for what always leads me to the wrong place," Halem sings, leading into an extended outro where his guitar chops are put on full display.

  Genres switch up on the next track, the reggae-influenced "Hide the Stash." The interplay between drummer Nathan Bartlett's cross-stick downbeat and Halem's guitar patterns provides a pleasantly exotic vibe. The changing up of genres continues again on "You'll Never Hurt Me Again." A country ballad, Halem channels the late, great George Jones in his vocal inflections. The lyrics, being from the perspective of a man to his former lover, are bitter, with one example being "If I could see your history and all the others you done this way/I'd be just another sucker sittin' right at the top of the 133rd page."

  Bassist Dustin Fennell goes all out right at the start of "Falling Fast Afloat" and doesn't let up once. His bass line provides a complex groove that the rest of the band works with marvelously. Bartlett's rolling drum beats ring in during the Western-style jam "Nathaniel." Female backing vocals coupled with Halem's crooning makes for an entertaining old school tune that would make Marty Robbins proud.

  Halem and his band go instrumental on the sixth track, "Buford Lights." I'm not sure if they're an influence, but the drum intro reminded me a lot of Radiohead's "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi." For me, "Buford Lights" is the standout song on the album. It brings in influences from everywhere, such as the delayed guitar riff that brings to mind "I Ran," the spacey keyboards of Pink Floyd, the virtuosity of guitar greats like Eric Johnson and Shawn Lane, and the instrumental interplay from Rush's "YYZ." It's a truly fantastic showcase of each member's respective talents.

   The harmonious guitar riff of "I'll See You Tonight" sets up for a lengthy and explorative ballad. Halem may not have the vocal chops of Sam Cooke or Greg Allman, but he's able to bring forth a level of emotion that brings the point across without sounding phony and insincere. The track ends with a dramatic guitar solo that caps the tune off in a splendid way. The beachside ska vibes of "Hide the Stash" return on "Hold On." "I ain't in no hurry but I don't feel like waitin'," Halem sings with a flair that is equally as understated as it is soulful.

  "Must Not Be My Day" is a 12-minute epic, evolving from an Allman Brothers-esque Southern rock tune into a proggy and psychedelic freakout towards the end. Halem and his band have a lot of chemistry together in their playing, and it's very evident in the way they play off of each other in this track. Ending with the nearly eight-minute long "Muscadine Grove," a playful country jam featuring a plethora of entertaining violin playing. It's a bright and joyous track, and a great way to close the album.

  I may not have heard of The Halem Albright Band before this record, but I'm glad to have gotten a preview of their new album Through Human Eyes. It's an eclectic and thoroughly entertaining kaleidoscope of various genres, a truly remarkable showcase of talent, and above all else a fun album to listen to. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for these guys in the future. You can find the band's upcoming tour dates here.

-Taylor Maddox, Bullet Music