By the Roadside, the debut album from Night Driving in Small Towns, deftly blends classic folk country sounds with a contemporary vocal style that'll have you settin' on the front porch, tappin' your barefoot toes, sippin' sweet iced tea. The themes are love-gone-wrong-don't leave-me-now-I'm-better-off-without-you country/folk familiar, but the arrangements are understated, flavored with bluegrass instead of twang to set off Andrea Roger's dulcet contemporary vocals.
"Whiskey" starts it off with an empty bottle and an empty heart, but its light and still drunk and the looming hangover isn't hurtin' yet as uplifting rhythms swirl around the classic heartbreak epiphany, "The only one you love is you." "Close Encounters" put them in Rolling Stone's top 25 unsigned Myspace bands, and it anchors the album with Colby Wright's upbeat mandolin underpinning Andrea Rogers' honeysweet voice. "Close encounters of the first kind,/ Brief encounters of the close kind/And then you run away" cleverly summarizes those brief relationships she's sick of; she wants this one to stay. "Little White Dove"'s folk gospel yodeling optimism may just save Christianity from Christians, since it cheerfully steers away from the ideological judgmental gloom that seems to pervade much of the faith these days: "Oh, I know Jesus saves,/ so bring on the rain,/ I can build a boat/ and I can float away." It truly hearkens back to a time when people used words like "hearken," when folks went to church to hear about the spirit and sing uplifting songs and live and let live. It instantly belongs in every church coffee house hymnal and would feel right at home on Prairie Home Companion (Somebody call Mr. Keillor).
If the first half of the album is about innocence and its loss, the second half completes the Blakean circle in its explorations of experience. "'Cast Your Love Around" is about a lover who does and "Infidelity" wryly explores the perfect relationship: "The only one for me/Is infidelity/‘Cause I know he’ll be/Faithful to me." The album concludes with "Waking Up," slower, wiser, in a lower register, its images clear and deft: "A fallen leaf/Fluttered by my windshield today/And I mapped out its decline/Likened it to mine." But this, the saddest, slowest song on the cd, ends in cautious optimism--"Your hands just touch me/And I feel OK/Your voice just whispers/Give it one more day"--finishing this fine first effort with a healthy dose of mature realism. South Georgia songwriters Rogers and Wright (mandolin, guitar) are backed up admirably by Sage Cady (bassist), Daniel Gonzalez (guitars), and Tyler Shores (drums, harmonica). All in all, this is a terrific first cd.