Natural Child - Dancin' With Wolves

After four years and numerous tours criss-crossing America, Nashville, Tennessee's Natural Child have grown, both musically and in size, with the release of their latest album, Dancin' With Wolves. By adding Benny Divine on keyboards and Luke Schneider on pedal steel, they have reinvented themselves with a much more pronounced twang than ever before. All the old themes of past albums are still here; boozin', getting laid, and copious amounts of weed, but now they are all dressed up with a honky tonk sound rather than the big riffed, stoner rock they had perfected on 2011's 1971, and 2012's one-two punch of For the Love of the Game and Hard in Heaven.

The ghost of Gram Parsons haunts this album, as it conjures up images of The Flying Burrito Brothers' The Gilded Palace of Sin, especially on the ballads "I'm Gonna Try" and the title track. However, there are other reference points here as well, most noticeably the Outlaw Country of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. The song "Country Hippie Blues" calls out to both sides of the country and rock divide, and is reminiscent of the gap between rednecks and hippies that Waylon and Willie bridged back in Austin, Texas in the early 70s, while the more rocking numbers like "Firewater Liquor" and "Saturday Night Blues" draw from the same pool as Waylon's classic 1973 albums Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes.

This might seem like a radical departure, but the country barroom has always been part of the band's DNA, buried beneath all the smoke and boogie. Bringing it to the forefront is only, if you'll pardon the expression, the natural progression for Natural Child. Sure it might cause a little friction with some fans who are opposed to change or afraid of the emotions the sound of the pedal steel stirs up inside of them, but one listen and it is clear that this was the only way the band could go if they wanted to remain true to themselves. And it does not mean that they can't still rock like they did in the past. Check out the session they did for the Los Angeles music blog Rollo & Grady to see them do old classics like "Blind Owl Speaks" or "Derek's Blues" as a five piece to see just how much the new members add to them.

Hillbilly music, as distinguished from the slick country that most non-fans think of when they hear the words 'country' and 'music' put together, always seems to have someone come along every seven years or so to open the minds of a new wave of music fans to its rich and beautiful tradition. Country rock in the 60s, the outlaws in the 70s, the cow punk bands of the 80s and the bands of the 90s and 00s. Maybe this album is the first shot in the next round of a hillbilly revival movement within a rock and roll audience. At the very least it is the best album Natural Child has made, and since that is as much as they can control, that is as much as we can ask and the most any band can strive for.

Black Lips w/ Natural Child and Red Mass

April 21 @ Theatre Corona