Michael Van & The Movers – A Little More Country – Review
Michael Van and his talented band, “The Movers” released “A Little More Country” in December of 2016. Arranged, produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Michael Van and The Movers at Flying Blue Monkey Studio, this 13-track effort is well recorded, but confusing.
As the title would suggest, “A Little More Country,” seems to be an attempt at getting back to the basics of country music, in the vein of Haggard, Hank, and Jennings. While Van achieves this often, sometimes the clash in styles takes away from the title’s namesake. What I mean by that is: this release isn’t simply a country album; It is a little country, a little bluegrass, a little Americana, a little Spanish, a little traditional Irish, a little blues, and a little classic rock.
Lyrically, the songs are catchy standard country/bluegrass themes. I found that many of the songs were a good nod to some specific styles of country: old country, new country, good ol’ boy country, whiney Hank III country, bad country, and good country.
Musically, Van has surrounded himself with some very experienced and fine musicians. Credits on this release include: Michael Van: Acoustic Guitar and Vocals, Pete Ahonen: Electric Guitar, Banjo, and Vocals, Alan Bond: Mandolin, Fiddle, and Vocals, Larry Lawson: bass, Bob Skye: Drums and Harmonica, Special Guest Mark Berhard Stevenson on Steel guitar, Noah Duvernell and Paul Ohnemus on Drums.
I enjoyed the title track, “A Little More Country,” a lot. It is a good solid “of the times” country song. I had wished that the style of the title track continued through the rest of the album, as it set the tone being at position No. 1 on the album, and the title track. “Skeddadle Mountain Lullaby,” is a great bluegrass song, but it threw me a bit, as I was expecting down home country throughout. “Skeddadle Mountain” was by far my favorite track, and now, at track no. 2, I was hoping for more bluegrass throughout, and forgot about “A Little More Country.”
Besides the lack of consistency in this album, the harmonies were problematic. Sometimes they didn’t quite hit the note; they fell a little flat. This can be heard on “Getting Drunk on A Monday,” for example. The idea was great, but it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been. The other disconnect for me was that sometimes the blending of styles didn’t quite work. The example here is “Juanita.” A great start with a beautiful Spanish flair, but then it became confusing with the electric guitar in the background, consistent with a standard rock song. The sometimes grungy and tom Petty-esque vocals seemed odd as well, and again, the blended harmonies were just shy of on-point. The song, however, is quite catchy.
“Center of the Universe,” has an undeniable Irish feel. I know bluegrass has roots in Ireland and Scotland, so if it was a true bluegrass song, I’d understand it better. Blending electric guitars with the traditional seemed wrong.
Throughout the album, sometimes the breathy vocals are comical and sometimes they are perfect. Sometimes the song composition is great, but muddied with blended styles. Sometimes the harmonies are nice…like Old Crow Medicine Show nice…and sometimes they are off.
I think Michael Van is definitely on to something. Settling on a style would lend to less listener confusion. Perhaps this is just the result of too many brilliant ideas circulating between too many good musicians in the band. Maybe Michael Van & The Movers would be better served by not self-producing, and getting a fresh ear in the game.