Michael Poulopoulos is old-school. That’s not a term you’re likely to find in any of his songs though. Adhering to the guitar-and-voice rudiments that have come to define Americana, Poulopoulos has built his songwriting career the traditional way, in front of a microphone on as many stages as will have him. In the few years since he parted ways with duo project Palatypus (along with Matt Durfee) to play solo as M.R. Poulopoulos, he’s probably played more local rooms than just about anyone else—and boasts around 70 live shows per year.
Yet, his approach to American roots music isn’t of the increasingly popular self-conscious variety. You won’t catch him in a vest or a ragged fedora. His lyrics don’t reference freight trains or coal mining. But the thematic essence of what he writes is consistent with the genre’s pioneers. The opening track, “Hard Times,” from his second album Harvest the Heart, is about as honest and direct with its content as you can get. A steady bass chug is complemented by mournful harmonica from Ryan Dunham, evoking a timeless lament that feels just as poignant with culturally current lyrical signifiers.
Laurence Scudder’s viola drives the country-folk “Mad in the Morn’,” a classic tale of “too much to drink,” while “Ink Fades” floats on Roger Noyes’ pedal steel. It’s tasteful country, earnest in its melancholy without pandering to easy emotional payoffs. Think John Prine, Townes Van Zandt. The band isn’t afraid to rock a little bit either, with “Skeleton Dream” two-stepping its way into the honky-tonk and the title track hard-strumming.
All this is just rhinestones on the Western shirt, though, as tracks like “Straight Lines” capture Poulopoulos at his best, open-mic style with just guitar and voice.