The Bo-Keys may be a contemporary group, but they'd have easily fit in during the glory days of the Memphis/Nashville/Muscle Shoals music scene. Effortlessly blending country with folk, soul, gospel and a little bit of rock and roll, they have crafted a sound that is at once familiar and current. On their third album, Heartaches By The Number, the group mixes original songs with classics from Hank Williams, Swamp Dogg and Merle Haggard, among others, making all the tracks their own in the process.
The disc opens with the title track, a country classic made famous by Ray Price and Guy Mitchell, among many others. Here the number is given a swaggering horn and organ mix that recalls mid-1960s Stax. Hi Records recording artist Don Bryant guests on vocals and delivers on this potent opener. With its spoken-word intro, "Set Me Free" recalls the ballads of the 1950s and early 1960s. John Paul Keith guests on acoustic guitar while Joe Restivo handles electric guitar duties on this excellent ballad with a soaring chorus.
On "Learned My Lessons In Love," The band shows off their funk influences, delivering a killer groove in the process. The backing vocals here and throughout are stellar as is the musicianship. The Hank Williams' standard "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" is given a soulful reading from singer Percy Wiggins. The song retains the poignancy of the original while veering off into new directions musically.
The Merle Haggard number "The Longer You Wait" finds the band meshing Memphis soul with country, mixing blaring horns with pedal steel as if it were written that way originally. Eric Lewis handles Pedal Steel duties and his playing is tasteful and melodic throughout. "Don't Take Her (She's All I Got)" sees the group adding a bouncy bass line and call-and-response vocals in this country-soul hybrid.
The soul-infused country of the instrumental "Last Date" closes out the album, allowing the band to show off their considerable chops. Both here and throughout the record, one can hear the joy these musicians had in making this album.
The Bo-Keys have showcased their many talents in under-the-radar settings, such as the TV show Scandal as mood music or backing Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac in the movie Soul Men. Here they get to shine on their own and they make the most of it. Heartaches By The Number is a winner from beginning to end.