Country Gets Groovy
Before taking their act to Nashville, the members of Banditos were busking and playing in separate bands in Birmingham, Alabama. Their merger was so casual and effortless as to seem serendipitous — guitarist Corey Parsons and banjo player Stephen Pierce were invited to play at a local bar and called up friends to join. The motley collection of performers found themselves on stage together before they had even decided to become a band; the improvised nature of their formation and diverse musical backgrounds shine through on their sophomore album, Visionland. Named for an obscure, failed theme park, the album straddles the fence between unbridled optimism and sobering reality.
Visionland opens on the eerie whine of a distorted phonograph which then yields to an infectious 70s-era rock ’n’ roll track titled “Fine Fine Day.” But don’t expect the album to stick to one decade—or genre for that matter. “Strange Heart” falls back to 1960s coastal psychedelic fueled by Mary Beth Richardson’s slow-burn, Joplin-esque howl. The title track is country rock spiked with LSD and sprinkled with lazily sung assurances like, “It was all very clear that everything was alright.”
“Thick N Thin” is a jaunty track, and Steve Pierce shines on “Fun All Night” with conversationally catchy vocals and a refreshing approach to his instrument. Speaking of fresh, note the brief burst of a kazoo, which seems all at once bold and absurd. Although three of the six band members sing on Visionland, one of the album’s highlights is Mary Beth Richardson’s raw vocals. From the sultry confection of “Healin’ Slow” to the unrestrained power of “DDT,” Richardson has swagger enough for the entire band and then some.
Visionland is an eclectic assortment of vintage sounds, modern sensibility and unwavering vocals that are haunting for all the right reasons. With disparate backgrounds in jazz, punk and choir music, it’s not surprising that the lively ensemble can successfully pull off honky-tonk and 60s pop on the same record. However, the ability to drop a banjo into the middle of a psychedelic track and make it sound perfectly natural is just one of the feats which separate Banditos from other contemporary bands looking to dredge the past for musical inspiration. Drawing from so many sources, Visionland could have easily come off as a muddled cocktail of competing flavors, but instead it strikes a balance and resonates with a sound we never knew we always wanted.