by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 3, 2009
LONG DISTANCE CARE
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C., Dec. 5, 2009 -- After forming in 2001, members of The Front Porch Country Band found themselves suddenly catapulted into the international spotlight after gleaning well over a million plays from the free-download Website MP3.com.
This massive consumer response led to the group being dubbed "the most listened-to country band in the world" from 2003 to 2004. The band's near-instant success serves as a testimonial to the grassroots approach to commercialism, which has become an ever burgeoning fixture of the Information Age.
Lead singer Johnny Jolin put it bluntly: "[MP3.com] was just a great tool for us to get in contact with listeners... Otherwise you get discovered the hard way, while cleaning toilets or waiting on tables. This way was a lot easier."
Indeed. In an era where the old model of major labels monopolizing every facet of artistic expression, to the point of even seeking to own the metaphorical souls of the artists themselves, is steadily being replaced by a shift towards the artistic freedom catalyzed by small "indie" labels, anything is possible.
For example: who could have foreseen an independent group of relatively unknown Pennsylvanian musicians out-competing such industry icons as "Shania Twain, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson?" Likely it was very few. When asked the band's secret to success, Jolin answered, "I think it's just the music. You put all the hype aside and the music speaks for itself."
So what has the band done in the five years since its meteoric rise to Internet stardom? In 2004, the tsunami of publicity quickly landed them a headline slot in an international 21,00-mile stadium tour of China. Jiali Zhu, supervisor of the Art and Culture Exchange Department of the US-China Foundation, took note of the band's cultural appeal. "Country music is a symbol of U.S. culture. It's very popular in China," Zhu explained.
Apparently so. A press release by the USCF concerning the concerts read: "The band headlined for thousands in the open air and were rushed for autographs after the show. The audience was crazy and intoxicated with the natural, passionate music."
Since returning from China, the group has released six albums including a two-disc live compilation of the Chinese tour, has received much critical acclaim, raised money as a participant in the United Way Concert Series For America, graced the cover of Original American Country magazine several times, opened for Randy Travis, toured the United States, and signed an international record deal. Not too shabby.
Intrigued by the back story, I picked up a copy of the band's September release, "Here We Go Again." After doing a bit of research, I found the album's title was meant as a sort of proverbial nod of the hat towards the iconic Kingston Trio.
In fact, the effort shares the title of Trio's fourth album. The Front Porch Country Band's Rick Buck explained, "We are saluting the creativity, energy and long-standing popularity of The Kingston Trio by titling our new album 'Here We Go Again.' They're our musical inspiration," he said. Listening to this eclectic record, the influence is readily noted.
The first thing that struck me about the album is its vast stylistic scope: there is something here for everyone. Throughout its 14 tracks the band tastefully pulls from a grab-bag of genres without ever fully departing from its essential sound: the Telecaster-driven, twang-infused country guitar band. This plethora of sonic stylings includes sounds pulled straight from Nashville, upbeat Mississippi honky-tonk shuffles, boogie-woogie piano rockers, acoustic ballads, a splash of Appalachian bluegrass, and even a touch of Caribbean island music.
The songs are well-polished, replete with hot double-stop licks and flat-picked solos, ringing acoustic guitars, creamy Allman-esque dual leads, and fleshed out by the strong vocal performances and layered six-part harmonies. The drums and bass never seem to miss a beat: the rhythm section rocks when it should, slows to a gentle supportive pulse when necessary.
Rather than attempt to split such an eclectic disc into its individual components, I thought it might be better to comment on a couple of generalized impressions of the whole:
All in all, I think the band's description in the album-liner comes pretty close: "... it's like the thunder of a runaway freight train barrelin' down Main Street at midnight... combined with the freshness of a front porch swing swayin' gently in the cool country breeze... ."
"Here We Go Again" is available from the band's Website, where there are also free downloads, as well as Amazon.com.