Four albums in and still sounding like the bastard sons of Steve Earl and Ryan Adams and like those two purveyors of alt-country, The Southern Sessions is brimming with songs that straddle the country/rock divide. Someone once told me that the difference between country music and Americana is the boots. The former sports shinny, Crome tipped cowboy boots, the latter, muddy, practical work boots. Billy Roberts and his Rough Riders are definitely in the latter territory but they walk these generic lines with care, enough country licks and campfire cool to please the Nashville scene and the right amount of rock and roll urges and foot on the monitor moves to appeal to the wider rock audience too.
No More Mr Nice Guy has more than the touch of Dylan about it and Special is one of those gloriously emotive ballads, one which flows with a brilliant and sultry swagger, and which does so effortlessly. And even though the album kicks in in fine rocking style with Hillbilly Blues, The Southern Sessions feels more restrained than previous outings, not tame, anything but tame, but perhaps favouring a more considered approach.
Kayla is a chilled, hazy cosmic country song, tipping its hat to a 60’s west coast sound as typified by the likes of CSN all those years ago, I Was Young gets all mountain music on you and With You is a chiming and charming tune, heartfelt and reflective.
But even when not kicking out the big anthems, Billy Roberts and this musical posse – special mention here for Tanner Lindsay who seems to be wearing many hats on this recording – prove that they still know how to catch and keep the listeners ear. As I said on the outset, four albums in and still doing what they do best. And what they do best is write, record and deliver great songs and do so on their own terms. Long may it continue.