“High on a Hilltop” marked my first sample of The Welfare Liners. And still, no bitter aftertaste.
I was immediately intrigued by the album art; very simple, yet not quite plain. The artwork came courtesy of Skillet Gilmore, the former drummer of Whiskeytown. My interest was piqued; I popped in my headphones and gave the CD a spin.
There is no evidence of gaudy over production. No drums. Just pure, classic Appalachian bluegrass.
Bluegrass and folk music’s recent comeback doesn’t seem to influence this band’s sound. The Welfare Liners do not strike me as a bandwagon group. Their songs are rooted in something real. “High on a Hilltop” is a testament to the beautiful and innocent side of southern tradition. It is hauntingly simple, with just the right balance of polish and rust to make it authentic and pleasing. And all mastered right here in Athens, by Bright Eyes bassist Andy LeMaster.
The album rises and falls, falls and rises. Most albums do. But at times the songs just get silly. Making the first track “Easy on the Eyes” was a mistake. The song is essentially about a stupid, stubborn girl who also happens to be pretty — pretty derivative. It takes away from the impact of the majority of the rest of the record. I feel like people expect bluegrass to be silly, at least lyrically. But why submit to the stereotype?
The album tends toward repetitive, and has it’s share of low brow songs. Still, these are minor substantial complaints amidst greater music. Songs like “Trouble Comes to Me,” “I Can Hear the Reaper Calling” and “Farewell to All the Angels” are stand-outs. If The Welfare Liners continue in the vein of songs like those, I predict a very warm and rewarding sophomore album.
Out of the plethora of bands in Athens, this one appears to be doing something special. The Welfare Liners are worth watching, for now at least.