Since their win at SPAC’s battle of the bands a couple summers back, Eastbound Jesus have consistently topped local polls and best-of lists in the “country” category. While flattered, the band themselves have always insisted the tag doesn’t quite fit (due to some pointed criticism of what commercial country music has become) and have gone so far as to dub their sound “Northern rock.” The new so-titled record is a manifesto of sorts.
The play, of course, is on Southern rock, and the record is a pretty convincing translation of that 1970s rural ethos across decades and geography. Luke Anderson’s ragged banjo parts still ground the band’s work in that punk-Americana genre popularized by Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers (and subsequently whitewashed into commercial ubiquity by “vest fetishists” Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers), but Dylan Robinson’s Gibson Les Paul has been pushed to the forefront for a number of Allman Brothers-inspired leads. The first taste we get is on “Waitin’ on the Sun,” where singer Adam Brockway fittingly heralds the arrival of spring after a North Country winter. The subsequent “Sittin’ by the River” doubles down with Zack Infante’s lap steel, making the Allman comparison inevitable. Onstage this element tends to get stretched out and has brought the band recent success in the Americana-leaning sector of the jam-band scene (and a choice slot at moe.’s recent snoe.down festival).
The similarities between Northern and Southern rock are thematic as well, with Brockway spinning workaday yarns about trying to get ahead while still making space for life’s simple pleasures. There’s even a song called “My Old Pickup Truck.” This kind of thing could feel self-consciously genre (like Mumford, et al.), but rather than selling out their rural identity, EBJ zero in on the cultural particulars of their geography. It’s no mistake that the album’s cover art shows them lounging around an ice-fishing hole, and “Where the Winter Goes” draws metaphorical weight from that specific malaise just before the season changes. The strongest track, “Talkin’ to John About the Weather,” makes the band’s struggle clear in the lyric: “It’s hard to find a sound that suits a northern town when it’s not snowing.” EBJ seem to have found it, call it what you will.