Pedal-steel-laced Boise band New Transit has an album-release party Friday night in celebration of its sophomore disc, “Country Music Dead.” I spoke with frontman Sean Hatton this morning and asked him about that album title, which he says was a “fun way to get people thinking.” Hatton maintains that New Transit is a rock band — and I agree. But I’d also argue that the group accurately can be described as alt-country, too. The words “Country Music Dead” are just a way of playing around with those ideas, Hatton says.
“I think it’s funny how people label this band as country music,” he explains. “When you listen to country music now, it clashes completely with what we do.”
What, Florida Georgia Line doesn’t sound like New Transit?
I’ll write more about New Transit’s short history and the group’s recent lineup changes in my Scene column on Friday. In the meantime, here’s an album review.
New Transit, “Country Music Dead,” ***
New Transit’s exceptional 2011 debut album, “One,” introduced Boise to a warm, rocking, alt-country groove. Vocal harmonies from singer-guitarist Sean Hatton and bassist Adam Gates glided through the group’s Americana instrumentation like a spring breeze. Pedal and lap steel from Dave Manion prevented New Transit’s grittier guitar moments from ever escaping the pasture entirely. Drummer Louis McFarland seemed to close his eyes and gently power tunes over the horizon.
Going through a transitional stage on its sophomore album, there’s enough new for New Transit to keep the ride fresh and exciting. The proven formula hasn’t changed — even if the band’s personnel has. Guitarist and singer Todd Sloan of defunct alt-rock trio Low-fi joined after the recording process had begun, but you can’t help imagining that Sloan’s creative influence crept into an arrangement or two. Low-fi was never afraid of quiet drama giving way to instrumental crescendos, and “Worlds Collide” — a successful but not entirely congruent track — clocks in at nearly 7 minutes. Either way, it’s hard to fault New Transit for swinging for the barbed-wire fence occasionally.
Elsewhere, Hatton crafts melodic, more-straightforward gems. Augmented by bandmates’ harmonies (and guest singer Catherine Merrick of a.k.a. Belle on the sweet “Waking Up with Me”), his twang-tinged voice was born for this dirt-road rock — soft and wise, as if whittled from old barnwood. Yet everything still makes perfect sense when New Transit blasts into “Carousel” — guitars feeding back before creating an upbeat anthem that evokes late ’80s/early ’90s Soul Asylum and Paul Westerberg.
“Everybody’s got time ticking” Hatton repeats on the slow, elegant song “On the Edge.” These musicians are making good use of theirs.