In sharp contrast to the tightly wound post-punk and cosmic desert rock found on Arbor Labor Union’s Sub Pop debut, the three-song ALU’s Blues is a sweet dose of Southern rock, drawing inspiration from classic mainstays such as the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. In an age of music drifting further and further away from cultural roots, traditionalism, and instrumentally driven grooves, these tracks are as refreshing as sweet tea on a boiling summer day. The band steps away from the traditional guitar-rock setup, incorporating harmonica, fiddle, slide guitar, and more to create sounds fit for the clay-ridden porch of a Tift County home.
Arbor Labor Union are naturalists to their core. ALU’s Blues conjures up scenes of Appalachia and the Southeast countryside, as the group sings the anthems and deeply rooted truths of Mother Earth. This is not bustling city music, but will rouse your working feet all the same.
The record starts with “Choppin’ Block,” a nearly nine-minute groove flush with knotted guitars, existential lyrics about death, and a bass line that sounds like it emerged right out of the bayou. The ways in which the harmonicas hack and hum — both here and elsewhere on the EP — help to draw the listener closer to the band’s primal vision, adding a level of melodic depth and texture that pulls the music further out of time.
“Fool’s Blues” follows at second — another frank, philosophical tune that closes with a big, breezy, bending solo reminiscent of Duane Allman or Dickey Betts. Meanwhile, “Riddlesnake Blues” with its spiraling mid-tempo groove and Dylan-esque spoken word poetics is a smart, sure-handed closer. In their press release, ALU speaks on the song’s peculiar origins: “[K]nocking on Woody Guthrie’s grave and asking him to help me write some words and how he came to me as a snake in my mind and all the words came at once one morning…” It’s this mix of history and allegory, of the natural and the mystical, that propels ALU’s Blues forward. It’s the power of seeking out the ghosts of the past in order to make sense of the present — and, just maybe, help us strive for the future.
Speaking of ghosts of the past, Arbor Labor Union recently posted a two-song EP called BEAWARE to their Bandcamp page. Recorded in a single take at Paris on Ponce in February of 2014, the record harkens to the taut, pulse-pounding songwriting that made the group’s early recordings as Pinecones so cathartic. “Church Painter” and “Man In Your Mind” largely tackle religious topics such as god, faith, and the human conscience, which nestle nicely against the naturalist themes Arbor Labor Union have been cultivating since their start. I hesitate to call BEAWARE essential to the group’s catalog, but longtime fans should find plenty to like about the two dynamic cuts.
In any case, both records provide us plenty to dive into as we await the band’s forthcoming sophomore LP. The icing on the cake is that the group is donating all proceeds from the sales of ALU’s Blues to the following charities: Georgia Equality, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, and Elemental Awareness. You can purchase both EP’s on their Bandcamp page for a minimum of five dollars. Regardless of whether the band continues to venture deeper into Southern rock, Arbor Labor Union is a contemporary that you must keep in mind. They will be crafting and molding the modern incarnation of this genre for as long as they write with such profound situational awareness.