Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: The Dirty Guv’nahs are much more than your typical college-town band.
The Knoxville, Tenn., sextet proves that on Hearts on Fire (Summertown). Frontman James Trimble and bandmate Michael Jenkins wrote all 11 songs on the record, which was released on March 11. Each song tells a story through evocative lyrics, aided by talented musicians and tight production. Naturally, it’s folksy, rootsy and oftentimes deep. But it also has its fun. Though The Guv’nahs transcend the college feel, the Athens, Ga., influence is inescapable. I also heard Counting Crows, some U2 and The Stones. Mostly though, it’s The Dirty Guv’nahs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a recap of the tracks:
“Where We Stand” is a mid-tempo boy-gets-girl-back tune that foreshadows a recurring theme throughout the album of dealing with fear. “Every generation has a past/I don’t want to be a soldier for the last” is a pretty nifty lyric.
Though I was already somewhat familiar with The Guv’nahs, I truly discovered them when I first heard “Morning Light” and saw the video. I subsequently gushed about it here. Go watch, listen and read in case you missed it.
“Lovin’” is a good ol’ tempo tune about young love and devotion. The band conveys a Rolling Stones feel with a Motown vibe. “I’ll make a living out of lovin’ you.” It makes you want to hug somebody you love (or would like to).
I especially liked “Ever Start to Wonder.” This fun upbeat jam tune features a nifty slide guitar and piano part. Bonus points since the lyric mentions Market Square in Knoxville, which is a pretty cool place to hang out for a while. According to the band’s web site, it was written in 2010 and reincarnated for this album.
“Dear Jamie” is a true tearjerker. “And it feels like my whole world’s falling apart/And I don’t mind dying, baby don’t break my heart.” If you haven’t figured it out by now, Trimble and Jenkins are gifted writers. Think U2 on this one, all the way down to the MLK Jr., speech dubbed in at the end. The slide guitar weeps.
“Slow Down Easy” delivers the best line on the album: “In the times you need me most/I leave you standing with my ghost.” Loose, groovy and soulful describe it best.
“Tarwater (The Fighter)” is an inspiring anthem about perseverance. It’s based on the life of USA Olympic Gold Medalist Davis Tarwater, who failed to make the Olympic team twice, retired, then came out of retirement to win a Gold Medal in 2012. Take this one along with you go on that run in the morning. Find some steps and go all Rocky Balboa.
“Under Control” has a cool driving groove. It was my least favorite on the record, but it’s not a throwaway by any means.
“Three Little Angels” features Amy Helm, daughter of troubadour Levon Helm. “Angels” is a cautionary tale about trying to go through struggles alone. It’s the most acoustic song on the record.
“Someone to Love” is the song to play when it’s way later at night than it needs to be, and you’re sitting alone in a motel room with a bunch of empties far away from home. Again, the slide guitar is impeccably moving, and the B-3 compliments it nicely. If it didn’t have so much competition, this would certainly be the encore for the band’s live show.
“Canyons.” This ballad about yearning for love ends with the characters feeling as much desperation as when it began. Consider the chorus: “I just want to be loved/That’s all I’m holding on to.” Now, consider the last lines: “At the bottom of it all/That’s where you’ll find hope.” About the song, Trimble wrote, “I spend way too much time comparing myself to other people. Insecurity and jealousy that I didn’t even know existed seeps from the corners of my heart and drives me deep into a canyon where the only thing that I know how to do is surf the internet, watch TV, build up walls, and silently or verbally compete with other people who are going through the exact same struggles that I am. That’s not exactly how I want to live the rest of my life.”
Struggles notwithstanding, Trimble and the rest of The Dirty Guv’nahs raised the musical bar with Hearts on Fire. Get it. Visit the band’s web site.
The Dirty Guv’nahs are:
James Trimble, vocal
Cozmo Holloway, lead guitar
Kevin Hyfantis, keyboards, BGV
Justin Hoskins, bass
Aaron Hoskins, drums
Michael Jenkins, rhythm guitar.