The Blue Highways – Out On The Line: Album Review

The brothers Lury offer a Boss-like grip on their gritty America, that should steer the Blue Highways to the Promised Land.

Release Date: 31st March 2023

Label: Self Released (Bandcamp)

Format: CD / vinyl / digital

OK, then, who’s up for a bit of widescreen cinematic blue collar rock, open throated guitar anthems of the north eastern industrial cities of Detroit, Newark, Boston, all of them? And Harrow, England? Is that a problem? Don’t let it be, for this band of (real) brothers channel as much Bruce, Mitch (Ryder) and Bob (Seger) as you can shake a headband at, causing you to recall quite why we thought those guys all so good. Maybe we still do, I do, but there seems little new from that sphere to loosen the juices in the same way they were once capable of. There are a few; Colin Macleod, the Stornoway Springsteen, being one, not forgetting also the mighty Sam Fender, but let me add these guys to the list. Actually, their second album, this found me almost by chance, glad that it did.

So Callum, Jack and Theo Lury have been channeling this muse since 2018, if remaining a best kept secret to most. Unless a regular at the burgeoning UK Americana scene; Maverick Festival, Ramblin’ Root Revue, that sort of gig, you wouldn’t have been aware of them. Those that do have been quick to hail them as somewhat special. Late to the party, let me now add my vote. Callum sings and writes the storyboard narratives, Jack plays lead guitar and Theo drums. Live, Joe Hazell plays bass, uncertain if he does on the album, or, to be fair, who adds the keyboards, but these are mere details, in the way of cutting to the chase.

Don’t Waste Your Prayers On Me starts as they mean to go on, a hoarse and homely holler, over picked electric. With lyrics referencing Lazarus and black coffee, this is refreshingly familiar ground, the fraternal harmony like grit on gravel. A lovely restrained start that makes the cascade of guitar strumming that embeds Nobody Lives Here Anymore almost unexpected. Almost, their presence actually a welcome surge of adrenaline. As the drums thunder in, note is duly taken, and I’m in. “There’s nothing left for us in this town” cuts in, sotto voce, and it is a riot of feelgood and old school rawk. Love it! A bit of economical guitar, less very much more, and, with chorus on repeat, it is a triumph. With piano introducing and leading Rio Grande, they show they have a range of moods, if all moody, meticulously well observed. Callum shreds his vocals through the same sort of grater that never did John Fogerty any harm, the interplay between keys, guitar and rhythm section immaculately put together.

Running Out of Time perpetuates the CCR tropes, three chords and the truth that, with the right conviction, the prairie really is your oyster, and old is the new new, as if that were never known. Great piano kerplunking in a never more Roy Bittan facsimile. A more laid-back high plains drifter ambience then populates Don’t Leave Me Alone, the piano again a joy. (Have I said how much I like this yet?) Jack peels out a solo that scrapes the sky, and organ adds that air of authenticity that only the yanks quite ever produce. Usually. More ramshackle harmonies cement the worth, and the bass as solid as a, I don’t know, a weather vane in a sandstorm. Tonight then comes on all roughshod moody, like Bruce when he does sincere. But rather than Philadelphia, this is a gentler Nebraska of a song about dancing. The vocals here are smoother and kinder, with a rasp in the harmony that suggest a change of lead. By taking back the pace a fair few steps, this adds to the variety that might otherwise be lacking. What’s A Man To Do picks up on the slower speed, with a pounding piano drawing out the angst inherent. And, whilst we’ve all been there and heard songs round this most human of conditions, hey, still it sounds a new take on the well worn subject matter. Even if you scratch your head around which album it was originally on, especially as the rhythm section crack in. (A:It wasn’t; that’s the skill!) The tumble of drums, as it closes, is genius.

More sturmy drangy guitar thrash accompanies Streetlight, with lyrics around beer and cheap wine. Corny? I should cocoa, the experience so ubiquitous as to insist on the reality of said cliche. And, expressed this well, entirely defensible, the ripple of near-buried electric piano nailing that opinion.(So there!) Land Of The Free starts with a guitar line that Hank Marvin might want to appropriate and, subject matter aside, it is another celebratory anthem that has me wondering quite where the brothers have in mind. I jest and don’t care, I’m just caught in the joyous slipstream. A great song, with a closing repeated mantra that hooks deep in your ear, as does the penultimate Man With No Name. No name? So solid the allegiance here to the Boss, I have a fair old idea. Not a complaint. Which only leaves the laidback swagger of Out On The Line, starting as an acoustic dustbowl shuffle, before the bass and drums lurch in, revealing the song as another classic, the brushed drums an essential part of the process. When it all stops, it seems all far too soon, it scarcely credible that the best part of 45 minutes has passed.

ATB prides itself on bringing new music to your attention. Seldom have I felt such a bearer of good news. May their highways be way more than just blue.

Here’s Tonight, their song about dancing:

Blue Highways online: website / facebook / twitter / Instagram

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