Alpha Mule - Peripheral Vision (2017)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

Peripheral Vision is a rustic slab of roots-driven Americana; the debut from Alpha Mule, an economical rockin’ country duo.  The band is made up of Joe Forkan on vocals/guitar and Chris Stoner on banjo/guitar.  A host of guest musicians contribute to this strong set of 10 originals with 5 bonus tracks that include tunes that didn’t fit with the main arc of the album and duo versions of a few of the tracks before additional instrumentation was added.  This pair has a strong ear for intricate vocal melodies and the diamond sharp lead strings and earthy rhythmic pushes hold everything together with a rock-solid, lockstep groove that never lets up. 

This is the kind of stuff that my grandpa and even my dad called country and thusly it’s what I think of when I hear the word “country” tossed around as well.  You’re hard pressed to find music this good in the genre on any of the FM radio stations (and even some of the online ones), so this release is a real treat for fans of the authentic Nashville twang.  The bar is a lofty one indeed, the standard to meet laid down on kick-off anthem, “Corpus Christi.”  Bolstered by a raw, pure interpretation of the genre but accessible in Forkan’s hearty melodic vocals, this track sets off a dust storm of racing banjos, fluid acoustic guitar riffs, deeply anchored support from upright bassist Joey Burns and folky vocal harmonies.  Despite the song being a tough act for the twosome to follow, they hit shivering highs on every successive track which proves that they are no one trick pony.  “On the Moon” calls to mind Frank Black’s work on the folk-country masterpiece, Fast Man Raider Man.  Light taps of percussion intertwine numerous well-plotted acoustic guitar melodies, touches of pedal steel and Stoner’s creative banjo pickin’.  Some catchy whistled melodies softly switch up the vibes again before the song returns to the same soulful mid-tempo mode it began with. 

You couldn’t get more real deal country than the Hank/Patsy creeper that is the album’s title track if you built a time machine yourself and travelled back to the genre’s way back roots.  It’s a slick little number that trades revved up bluegrass speeds for a comely slow burn with uplifting dual acoustic melodies, snappy grooves on the banjo, root note centered bass, Hammond organ buried deeply in the background and a show-stopping vocal delivery from Joe that will instantly get caught in your ears.  It’s followed by the moody crawl of “The Distance” that takes the brisk evening grooves of “Corpus Christi,” slow them down considerably and inlays a few trumpet accoutrements into its melancholy second half for a very complete piece of work.  They completely transition their sound to the expressive, speeding bullet rockabilly/bluegrass split of album highlight “Pavlov” and its white lightning guitar/banjo shakedowns.  “Mule in the Mine”, keeping with a similar song-to-song ethic, offers up more of the same but trades some of the bluegrass feel for fast-paced folk meditations. 

The remainder of the album is held together firmly by down-tempo softness in the form of several ballads, “Step Outside,” “The Ballad of Huell Howser” and closer “Empire.”  A late album standout arrives in “Music of Our Hearts” mix of country and folk with excellent banjo jammin’ leading the way alongside organ, keyboards and trumpet.  This final quartet of tunes is truly a testament to Peripheral Vision’s many different genre exploits and the sheer musical variety on hand.  Anyone with a hankering for folk, country, bluegrass and other Americana sounds of the distant past would do well to grab the latest by Alpha Mule.