The MilBillies start their sophomore album on a somewhat inauspicious note, courtesy of the easy, unhurried intro to Annie, seemingly an homage to the girl for whom they share some obvious affection. Nevertheless, the restraint doesn’t last long, and within a few moments, they transition to a rousing and robust change in tempo. It’s typical of a band that’s known for crowd-pleasing tunes about love, longing, and the perils that accompany the desire to drink, all in equal measure.
The title of their latest release, Capital B, references the spelling of the band name, leading one to imagine that it is often improperly transcribed. Hopefully, that will be rectified by the attention directed its way here.
The erstwhile ensemble — Joe Wais (fiddle, vocals, keyboards, and trombone), Eben Flood (guitar, vocals), Watt Brey (mandolin, vocals), Dan Shaw (banjo, vocals), and Pat Zimmer (bass, vocals) — are a rowdy bunch to be sure, a band that’s been effectively road-tested over the past two years, gaining confidence and credibility in the process. So while songs such as the tellingly-titled, Are You Drunk?, One Last Time, and Mountains and Rivers are, by turns, brash and boisterous to a great degree, they also reflect that fact that The MilBillies take pride in their decidedly upbeat approach, while making it a point to express it with both coherence and clarity.
Credit producer Sam Odin for allowing the band to exercise their enthusiasm, tempering it with occasional nuance and supple shades of subtlety. Bosch’s and Never Ever allow for emotional expression without having to compromise their upbeat appeal. Nashville shares drive and desperation in equal proportion, a reflection of their overall effort to capture attention in a crowded field of aspiring ensembles. Likewise, Tattoos & Overalls details a personal perspective courtesy of a sound that’s both introspective and affecting. So too, the intrusion of sax, trumpet, and trombone on the aforementioned Annie, adds an intriguing element to the musical mix.
Still, there are occasional moments where remorse and reflection take precedence, which makes a song like Blue Ribbon Days all the more appealing. On the whole however, their bold, breakneck delivery generally overshadows any softer sentiment.
All but one of these tracks are original compositions, but the album’s instrumental take on the traditional tune, Goodbye Liza, effectively sums up the MilBillies’ attitude and intents. It’s hard to deny the impact of such potency and prowess.