By Shirley Griffith (Photo: Drea Atkins)
January 22, 2018
Charlotte three-piece Amigo swaggers back into the scene to release their third full-length, Amigo and Friends, a follow-up to 2014’s Might Could on January 26. Amigo and Friends is a triumphant record, incorporating everything from gospel-tinged organs to sophisticated brass instrumentation. Album opener “Big Idea” stretches from “Hollywood Town Hall” era Jayhawks to “Own Trip Now” which pulls into mind The Byrds’ cheeky rhythms and plucked guitars while slipping Wes Anderson-worthy wacky noises into the mix.
Amigo consists of Slade Baird (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), Adam Phillips (percussion, vocals) and Thomas Alverson (bass, vocals). The “and Friends” portion of the album is not only a gracious invite for the listener to become a true amigo, it also pays dues to the myriad of talented musicians that contributed their special flair to the album. Guest artists include Nathan Golub (pedal steel, dobro), Aaron Phillips (woodwinds), Jay Shirley (Hammond organ, Vox Jaguar, piano, Chamberlin) and John Teer (mandolin, fiddle) and 1970s Film Stock’s Eddie Garcia (guitars). Amigo and Friends was mixed and engineered by the legendary Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Let’s Active) at Fideltorium Recordings who said Amigo’s sound is joyous, familiar, and fresh: “You can listen to them for fun or you can listen to them for emotion and resonance. That isn’t easy to achieve, and when a band does it, you realize you are listening to something real and enduring.”
Amigo draws from a number of classic rock ‘n’ roll sounds and allow themselves reprieve from the labors of living by infusing their style with the fun and candid blue-collared corners of punk and Americana while acknowledging the in-between. Respectfully incorporating the best parts of multiple niched rock genres gives Amigo their signature character and animated knack for translating a good time into a good tune.
The band has always delivered as an action-packed trio but the bandmates have truly tuned their styles to work flawlessly together. Blues and rockabilly tones in ”Everybody” swing each other around and bravado ricochets back and forth gunning it between electric guitar solos and frantic, pounding keys. “When I Fool You (Into Loving Me Again)” is an acidic ride off into the sunset, tethered to the dusty ground by Baird’s earnest pleading. Stepping into church, “Bless Your Heart” offers up a proper Southern sermon delivered with sassy quips (we all know what “bless your heart” really means) over fiery organs, clapback beats, and a wailing harmonica. In 2016 Amigo released “I Wanna Live (Cause I Don’t Wanna Die)” as an upbeat single but Amigo and Friends gives us a more solemn rendition of the song, bringing out its simple, raw beauty. A low steel guitar sways in and out of the song’s shadows like a curtain moving in the Sunday morning sunlight, lifted up and down by a haunted, fading wind. The song carves out time to look around and be thankful, reminding you that this is our one shot and “to hate is death, so love someone.”
The album closes with two thoughtful, somber tracks: “Too Far Gone” and “Almost Something Good.” “Too Far Gone” takes a closer look at our own mortality by looking at it from a few angles, then shrugging a couple worries off with possibly (preferably) a few drinks because after all “Where I land, that ain’t up to me, it’s out of my hands.” Album closer “Almost Something Good” is an undressed version of “Big Idea” and it’s fascinating how this intimate version rearranges the whole priority of the song. The track is shy and sincerely heartfelt. Although the attitude is turned way down on this version, the amount of instruments gathering together as amigos is certainly not. Mandolins, multiple guitars, soft drums, seemingly the whole gang comes out to play and wish you well as if they were standing on a porch waving goodbye and to come again soon.