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.