CD Review: The Jeff Austin Band - The Simple Truth

The Simple Truth by The Jeff Austin Band is one of the few recordings I have heard so far this year that rewards multiple listenings.
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The Simple Truth is the title of the surprising debut album from The Jeff Austin Band. Austin's name should be a familiar one to fans of the jam band scene, as he was a founding member of the Yonder Mountain String Boys. As a mandolin player in the YMS, Austin's affinity towards bluegrass was quite evident. And while many so-called jam bands have a deep respect for musical diversity, The Simple Truth takes that approach much further. This ten-song set spans country, power pop, bluegrass, soul, and good old rock and roll to create a gem of an album.

Besides multi-instrumentalist Austin, The Jeff Austin Band includes Danny Barnes (banjo, guitar), Eric Thorin (bass), and Cody Dickinson (percussion). Dickinson's name may also be familiar as he is a member of the North Mississippi Allstars. There are a number of other guests as well, including Jenn Hartswick, Sarah Susskind, Todd Snider, Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey's McGee, and the Royal Horns. In short, Austin's circle of friends contributed a lot to the project.

"What the Night Brings" is the opening track, and its upbeat story of a wild night out provides a fine introduction to the record. Things get more interesting with "Simple Truth." The banjo of Danny Barnes is a neat addition to this roadhouse-style tune. Perhaps the greatest accolade I can offer about Austin's songwriting is just how adept he is in various fields. The bittersweet "Scrapbook Pages" is a marvelous tune, a ballad with a compelling lyric and equally strong melody.

"Fiddling Around" and "Run Down" are showcases for Austin's love of bluegrass. Both are the real deal, and sound great.  The next time a Taylor Swift fan mentions how much they like country, I am going to play "Run Down" for them. I like to think of these songs as what The Dillards would be today if they were still at it.

As for straight ahead rock and roll, I give a nod to both "15 Steps," and "Gatling Gun." While both of these songs contain countryish accents, they have a definite heartland rock appeal.  The most surprising track for me is titled "Shake Me Up." This one sounds like the Jeff Austin Band have been listening to some primo early '70s Stax records, along with a little Curtis Mayfield. "Falling Stars" is the closer, and it is a memorable one. This ballad contains country flourishes such as pedal steel guitar, banjo, and mandolin to set the tone. When the harmonies come in to drive the song home it becomes a melancholy dream.

The Simple Truth by the Jeff Austin Band is not only the group's debut platter, it is also their first for the North Carolina - based Yep Roc Records. Seek it out, because this is one of the few recordings I have heard so far this year that rewards multiple listenings. I also imagine that these guys are a great live act, so keep an eye out for them in that department as well.