A Big Damn Band dances the blues away in newest project
Reverend J. Peyton, Max Senteney and “Washboard” Breezy “The Miss Elizabeth of Country Blues” Peyton make up the neo-rock-bluegrass group from Indiana, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. Just as strange and lively as their names suggest, this group has been willing to cross lines and break borders since their first released album that came out in 2006. These lines and borders being tread upon can be seen in their electric live shows featuring deafening music and even a smoking washboard being rhythmically scratched from “Washboard” Peyton’s fingers. Since then, they’ve been feeling and playing the blues which brings people to their 2021 project, Dance Songs for Hard Times.
The album begins with a southern blues guitar riff that could have been taken straight out of a Stevie Ray Vaughn song in “Ways and Means.” So far the most popular song in terms of streams, Peyton’s low, throaty voice kicks in just as the drums and other instruments pick up. He’s got “all the ways, just ain’t got the means,” in this hard-rocking opener to the project. It’s followed up by a modernized bluegrass joint, “Rattle Can.” What sounds like a riff meant for the quick fingers of a banjo player is handled adeptly by Peyton on a honky-tonk guitar. This song oozes fun and grease in the best way possible.
The Big Damn Band pulls back for a mellow buffer in between its violent instrumentation in “Dirty Hustlin’.” The groove is set down by just drums and a guitar, while Peyton proclaims that he isn’t “scared of nothing, not even that dirty hustlin’.” “Dirty Hustlin’” turns into “I’ll Pick You Up” as the fun is dialed back up. A summertime dive bar in the Alabama sand sounds like it’s ready for this rowdy tune about new love.
“Too Cool to Dance” is the next song the DJ should have played in Back to the Future after “Johnny B. Goode” came on. A jazzy, bluesy, rocky mixture of excitement makes people feel like they’re everything but too cool to dance. Peyton asks, “please don’t tell me you’re too cool to dance?” convincing her to dance with his words and the music itself.
If you are too cool to dance, the next song “No Tellin’ When” might suit you better. Building chaos begins as a single guitar note plays continuously while an ominous steel guitar picks above it. This feels like a return to roots. However, these roots are completely uplifted in “Sad Songs.” The volume is turned back up for an old-school honky-tonk heartbreak anthem. “Don’t leave me here with these songs, don’t leave me here, baby, on my own.” A kicking, rocky take to a classic tale of barroom bitterness.
“Crime to Be Poor” begins with a kick drum and is quickly joined by guitars—steel and acoustic—and a harmonica that sounds about ready to punch someone in the face. Peyton’s soulful, bassy voice urges the masses that it shouldn’t be a “crime to be poor.” Almost a protest song, this one has the passion and the urgency behind it that makes anyone want to believe everything he is saying.
“Til We Die” is their song to put Peyton’s steel guitar skills to the test. It shakes and squeaks in strange and soulful ways while he croons above the band-defining washboard and dueling guitars. After this, the penultimate song on the album, “Nothing’s Easy but You and Me,” takes over in an aggressive way. The washboards, drums and guitars show that nothing is easy—especially this song. This musical antagonism winds down to find a spot in the middle—excited but pensive. “Come Down Angels” sounds as if Lynyrd Skynyrd had gotten a hold of an old Southern Gospel hymn. This knee-slapping groover shows the combination of salvation and smudges that this band seems to encompass.
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band seems to embody an intriguing sort of irony. A reverend with a “damn” band? Spiritual songs over hard-rocking guitars? These things don’t tend to go together often; so when they do, it catches the eye—or rather ear in this case. Dance Songs for Hard Times is exactly what it sounds like it would be: dance songs for hard times. This group is able to successfully combine aspects of sound and life that have no business being combined. Musically, emotionally and lyrically, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and their new project are highly impressive.