As a reviewer, few things are more satisfying than encountering an artist with whom you are unfamiliar, and finding them to be as strong a contender for headliner status as anyone currently working the circuit. It’s also a bit humbling, as you have to squash the “Why haven’t I heard of these guys?” impulse that inevitably arises.
With their second album, You’ll Be Lonely, I’ll Be Gone, Kansas and Utah-based Driven provides just such an opportunity. Not only does the record boast of compelling original material, heartfelt performances and a radio-friendly sound, it demonstrates a remarkable jump from their debut, self-titled project just two years ago.
That first album was all covers, where this new one includes all original material from within the band. The bulk of the songs come from mandolinist Brandon McLemore, with one from his twin brother Blake who plays bass, and one each from banjo/reso man Jimmy Campbell and guitarist Jake Wortman. The band is completed by Rebekah Workman on fiddle. She and Jake are married, and with the two McLemores, Driven has a kinda-sorta family band vibe.
Lead vocals are split almost equally between Campbell and the McLemores, with one from Rebekah. All are strong singers, each possessing sufficient skill and sincerity to front a band on their own. With all four offering vocal contributions, the group has that many more chances to catch your ear, while retaining a unified sound from the similarity in the twins’ voices, and the fact that most of the songs come from a single source.
The record leads off with the title cut, an angry, in-your-face reaction of a cuckolded lover to a philandering partner. Campbell’s voice suits this bluesy number, with just a hint of uxoricide, as it does the rip-roaring ’49 Gold, a mildly crooked song about the California gold rush.
Rebekah’s sole vocal is on Brandon’s Runaway, telling of the sadness of a road musician recognizing their unfitness for a long-term relationship. She has a lovely voice, which feels a bit underutilized here. Perhaps Brandon needs to get busy coming up with more songs for her to sing.
Without a scorecard, I’m not sure you could distinguish between the songs that Brandon sings from those led by his brother. Other than some facial hair differences, they look as alike as they sound.
Blake sings his lone composition, Love Another Day, with a ’90s LRB feel, and his brother’s West Virginia Home, a nice take on the familiar longing-for-home format. Brandon takes the lead on three of his tunes: John 6, an interesting Gospel song that examines a portion of Scripture less frequently cited in the bluegrass world, perhaps for its suspiciously Papist overtones; The Way, a nice medium-tempo 3/4 time Gospel song; and The Old Man & Me, which mines another familiar theme, the friendship between a young boy and a much older man.
A special treat is Workman’s guitar, which shines on every track. His instrumental, Hollow Point, is a real tour de force, as is his clever accompaniment on John 6. I’ve no doubt this latter is a real crowd pleaser on stage, with it’s various call-and response verses, unexpected arrangement, and the invitation to clap along.
With this release, Driven has everything it takes to make it to the next level. With a little luck and some hard work, they could be 2014’s Detour, a Michigan band who leapt from seeming obscurity to radio success and a national touring schedule on the strength of their A Better Place CD.
You’ll Be Lonely, I’ll Be Gone is a powerful statement of that likelihood. The album is available from popular download sites and wherever bluegrass CDs are sold.
Check this one out.