The Muckrakes Dive into the Pill Shaped Void
One thing seems a constant for the Muckrakes, the alt county/new grass/country punk/Americana rock/pick-your-roots-genre band that has been alive and kicking since 2008: release some new music and the band’s lineup — and direction — will change.
The local band issued “Pill Shaped Void” in the fall after a couple years shepherding it through the recording process, and, sure enough, by that time they’d lost three members who moved to other states. Even the guy whose recording equipment they used left town.
“There’s a curse,” says songwriter and guitarist Jon Owings, one of the original members. “Any time we release a record someone leaves and it’s always an integral member to that sound. It’s like, here’s our album, we don’t sound like that anymore.”
But then it’s always been that way. Owings, who wrote and sings seven of the tunes on “Void,” says the band began with a series of jams with former drummer Dave “Gravy” Jackson in a basement. “We went through a ton of people and a ton of different sounds,” says Owings, whose day job is as a P.E. teacher.
Each time they’ve reloaded the lineup. Hampton Roads is not without people interested in playing live. “The people we have found have been very cool, good fits, “says keyboardist Billy England who was the band’s bass player for a while. “Somewhat stable people,” he adds laughing.
The current lineup, which is back playing their favorite spots in the area and will be a part of the Ghent Pub Crawl in February, features Owings, England, Mike Turner, John Tingley and new drummer Rick Isotalo.
England says Tingley is already writing new songs and the group has three or four in the works. The idea always was to write and record originals. Owings jokes they would be a lot more profitable playing covers, but that just doesn’t sit right. “That was always our thing – doing original stuff,” he adds.
About the only regular cover they do is a version of Lowell George’s “Willin’ “ made famous by his band, Little Feat, on “Sailin’ Shoes.”
The Muckrakes are still playing the songs Owings sings on the new disc, not those penned by departed member Cory Nealon. “I don’t know the words to them,” Owings cracks.
The new disc is their third effort. The first was a five-song EP released in 2009, followed by the rootsier “Grandiphonia” in 2011 that was nominated for “Best Album” in the Veer Music Awards.
The new disc opens with the country gallop of “Hold On Go,” and the quietly catchy “Our Time on the Edge,” both Owings contributions framed by his souful vibrato. He also penned “The Way We Were,” “Going Gone,” “On the Run,” “Radio,” and “Gone in a Day.”
The sound varies from noirish rock to contemplative Americana to spacey guitars on the closer “Bored With My Life.” Overall, it feels more muscular, more willing to take chances than “Grandiphonia.”
Owings notes they were billed as a bluegrass band in their first incarnation, more because they had a fiddle player and a banjo in the band. He doesn’t pull out the banjo much these days.
Rather than choose a sound, he says has evolved. “You can tell our sound in the changes of members,” he adds. “We didn’t try to sound different. We were different because we had different members in the band.”
“But,” adds England, “you can still tell it’s us even though it’s different.”