By Derk Richardson
The Waybacks’ third studio album was recorded in Nashville, produced by ace bassist Byron House with guest appearances by mandolinist Sam Bush, steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar, accordionist and pedal steel guitarist Fats Kaplin of the Dead Reckoners, Hammond organist Reese Wynans, the Greencards, the Infamous Stringdusters and others. The band’s primary musical touchstones remain bluegrass and country, but its soul belongs to the San Francisco Bay Area it calls home. Consequently, Loaded’s idiomatic range embraces Commander Cody–esque honky tonk and Asleep at the Wheel-ish western swing and meanders as afield as Gypsy jazz and Celtic sea shanties. Indeed, at various points through these 12 tracks, you might think you’ve stumbled upon a lost session by the Charlie Daniels Band, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, or even Fairport Convention.
But since their last outing, their 2006 Compass debut From the Pasture to the Future, the Waybacks have actually tightened their sound, redefining themselves as quartet with two primary leaders—founding acoustic and electric guitarist James Nash and new member fiddler Warren Hood—who basically take turns writing songs and singing lead (both doubling occasionally on mandolin). Chuck Hamilton and Joe Kyle Jr. add backing vocals and comprise the solid rhythm section on drums/percussion and upright and electric bass, respectively. With the departures multi-instrumentalist Chojo Jacque and fingerstyle guitarist Stevie Coyle, Nash’s fluid virtuosity soars to the forefront, with Hood settling in as a perfect foil; their interweaving lines tread between tight New Grass string-band style and more free-form Grateful Dead- and Allman Brothers-rooted jam-band improvisation. And while longtime fans might miss the left-field covers of the past (anything from Floyd Cramer and John Fahey to Charlie Parker, Chick Corea, or Ray Davies), the all-originals strategy and vocal-heavy orientation suits the sharpened identity without totally jettisoning the Waybacks’ much-loved eclecticism.