In developing a blend of music that they have dubbed "Appalachian Rock," Big Daddy Love presents an intriguing collection of songs with the release of "To the Mountain." Half of the tracks are meditative, reflective numbers, while the others seem infused with the spirit of moonshine and late-night howls. The band formed in 2009, and currently considers Asheville, North Carolina as its home base. Featuring Daniel Justin Smith on vocals and acoustic guitar, Matteo "Joey" Recchio on vocals and electric guitar, Brian Swenk on banjos, Ashley Sutton on bass, and Kelly Linville on drums, the quintet offers up 13 energetic tracks for this release.
The album begins with a simulated radio broadcast in "Hometown Radio," before settling into the soulful strains of "Peace of Mind." The song blends the qualities of gospel revival with banjo for a light hearted jaunt. "Good Morning Sunshine" gallops on the strength of Brian Swenk's banjo and excellent vocals, while "Spirit is a Window" settles into a more contemplative, thoughtful groove. "Heed the Call" features excellent, assured vocals, frolicking banjo, and Matteo "Joey" Recchio's enthusiastic guitar. "River Runs" begins methodically, as sparsely picked guitar is framed by minimalist drum. The song recounts the story of teenage fools who play in the river beds of their youth, with the river being a metaphor for the passing of time and growing up.
"Unsung" begins with guitar and frantic banjo, settles into a nice groove, only to culminate with expressive guitar fireworks and a confident, loping jam. "Mortality" blends elements of a "chain gang" work song with the expressive fury of smoking guitar, resulting in a layered, spooky jam. "American Sycamore" spotlights banjo and warm lyrics. "A Letter to Love (Story Song)" is a sparsely picked, moody track that features wistful lyrics and a sense of hopefulness. A darker urgency summons the arrival of "Mountain," as banjo is framed against rumbling bass and drums, before a harmonica wails its arrival. The track ventures forward confidently, accentuated by squealing guitar, and the warm vocals that are a trademark of the album. "Space and Time" is a brief, ambient interlude, spiced with the laughter of children. "Forever Rain" closes the album in the sort of melancholy tone that one might associate with the lyrics of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. The track is poignant and well-executed.
In reviewing "To the Mountain" as a whole, I'm impressed with the varied tone and direction of the tracks presented. The album is characterized by strong guitar, rollicking banjo, wistful lyrics, and an emotional honesty that is forthright and charming. The production qualities of the album are also solid, with excellent layers and instrumentation that sound "live," almost as if the musicians are playing in your living room. The production of "To the Mountain" is well-executed, the tracks are well-sung and played, and the warmth of these tracks are inviting for the new listener, especially one who enjoys Americana, folk, bluegrass, or old country music.
- J. Evan Wade