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Boot Juice: Shifting Gears
by George Graham
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/14/2021)
The roots-rock/Americana genre can take various forms. It emerged as a reaction against and antidote to synthesizer-dominated sample-based music, driven by the technology and in which musicianship and indeed the ability of the lead vocalist to carry a tune have become almost irrelevant. Instead, the roots rock movement draws on folk, country, blues, sometimes bluegrass and soul, in which live performance is key. Synthesizers, drum machines, samples and Autotuned vocals are banished and authenticity is the goal, along with a good time. But that still leaves a lot of room for variety. The phalanx of roots rock bands can be found at various places in the Americana spectrum, with some emphasizing the country, some the blues, and so on.
This week, we have a new release by a California-based group who consciously try to mix it up, encompassing blues, soul, country-rock, and jam band tendencies. The group is Boot Juice, and their new release, their third after an EP and a previous full-length album, is rather appropriately called Shifting Gears.
Boot Juice is an often seven piece group, many of whose members have been friends since childhood. Formed in 2016, their two principal songwriters and guitarists are Evan Daly and Connor Herdt. For Daly, musical variety has been a goal, with his having played in a metal band, funk and soul groups, a blues band he also heads, and a honky-tonk country band. Herdt is more the folkie concentrating on acoustic guitar. The group also includes the expected bass, and drums, plus additional vocalist Jessica Stoll, and two horn players who can give the band’s music a kind of Memphis soul sound at times. This result is an album of honest, good-time music that draws in classic elements but manages to stay fresh though their versatility.
The short 32-minute album opens with Don’t Worry About Me which is a kind of mixture of an old bluesy novelty song with some Gospel influence. It’s definitely some good-time music. <<>>
Boot Juice’s retro soul influence is font and center on the song Ways to Get Through. The lyrics are also uplifting like a Gospel song, encouraging optimistic coping in the face of the difficulties that the world may throw your way. <<>>
More lighthearted is a song called Califormia Drivers a kind country-honky-tonk song complaining about bad drivers on the road. <<>>
One of the most laid-back tunes is Some Place in the Sun a kind of contemplation of the nomadic life, perhaps inspired by the quarantine lockdown of the past year. From the pictures on their website, this is a group who rambles around extensively in a big old tour bus. <<>>
Boot Juice includes one cover on the album, by the group that was the epitome of roots rock in their day, the Band. Robbie Robertson and the late Rick Danko wrote Jawbone which Boot Juice serves up with their customary authenticity. <<>>
The band includes another road song, 101 named after the famous California highway. It also takes on a kind of country twang. <<>>
Boot Juice goes even more retro on Summer Camp which sometimes conjures old doo-wop <<>> but then picks up momentum. <<>>
The album ends with a short instrumental, the title track Shifting Gears which is perhaps the album’s most melancholy sounding piece. <<>>
Shifting Gears the new release by the California band Boot Juice is an enjoyable album of appealing roots rock that shows the group’s versatility, incorporating intentionally diverse elements of the Americana scene in a tasteful, honest setting. This large group never gets musically unruly, and the lyrical emphasis is on good cheer rather than profundity. The different material by the two songwriters, Evan Daly and Connor Herdt provides some of the contrasts, though the pair do collaborate on a two of the compositions.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The mix is clean and honest like the music, in keeping with the whole roots rock ethos.
Judging from the photos and videos on the band’s website, Boot Juice is very much a live group, and in the CD booklet, they write about how difficult the quarantine year 2020 was. But their new release captures the spirit of this bunch of long-time friends who are the epitome of what a roots-rock band should be.
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