There aren’t many tasks as a recording artist than making that crucial debut LP, and for the bluegrass act Rock Hearts, it’s more than obvious that they didn’t come into the project with intentions of giving critics and fans anything less than their best. In their debut album Starry Southern Nights, Rock Hearts set out to cast a declaration of war against the bluegrass establishment with some downhome grooves that appeal to the genre’s old school more than they do the alternative new school, and for me personally, its eight songs adds up to pure passion no matter how many times they’ve been played.
The structures to most of the songs in this LP are actually pretty simple in comparison to what I would normally expect from a bluegrass album, but at the same time, the melodies in compositions like the title track, “Don’t Take It Too Bad,” “Juxtaposed” and “Stagger Lee” are enough to make any record sound incredibly multidimensional. You don’t have to be an expert on genres to pick up on the diversity of the band’s influences in this tracklist; in fact, if you listen to the opening cover of “99 Year Blues” alone, I think you’ll realize just how much this group loves music in general.
A righteous rhythm adds some extra pressure to the unfurling of verses in “Don’t Let Smokey Mountain Smoke Get in Your Eyes,” the second cover included in Starry Southern Nights, and I think this element of its production accentuates the lyrical mood better than any instrumental component ever could have exclusively. Producer Ned Luberecki of Sirius XM fame uses his abilities behind the board not to intrude upon the band’s sound but to emphasize the intricacies that give it such rich vitality, which is something I would like to hear other producers in this genre try on their own sometime.
The tracklist flow feels intentionally uneven in a couple of different spots in this album, but by choosing to constantly break up the fluidity of the music with tempo changes and tonal differences that separate one song from the next, I think you could make the argument that Rock Hearts were able to deliver a much more well-rounded LP than some of their closest competitors in the mainstream would have in similar circumstances. The adrenaline is always teetering towards an eruption here, and that’s difficult to pull off in a ballad like the title track (which is soon to be made into a video, I should note).
A ripping sonic ride for roots music enthusiasts and the casual passerby the same, I have to say that Rock Hearts’ Starry Southern Nights is absolutely an interesting first step towards stardom if I’ve ever heard one before. It’s a critical masterpiece in some areas and a limited take on what the band could potentially accomplish if given a bigger budget and a little more room to grow than they’ve already been afforded, but no matter what anyone in the press dubs this LP, it’s one of my favorites to have debuted this year.