The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band is nothing short of an enigma.
The three piece combines Reverend Peyton himself on finger style slide guitar, his wife Breezy on washboard, and Aaron Persinger on drums, creating a unique blend of fast and furious stomp-blues that is phenomenal live, still standing as one of, if not the best, guitar slingers I've ever seen.
But, as with many other high intensity live bands, capturing that musical maelstrom on record can be challenging. Its records, at the very least, have only gotten better with each release, sharpening and honing the recording process, but "Between the Ditches" is the first album that hasn't improved on the former.
With only three people you are somewhat limited to your pallet of musical colors, but for whatever reason the Reverend's guitar sounds as if heavy, heavy delay was applied to it, creating unneeded slapback echoes and giving the illusion the album was recorded in a giant, empty tin can. With his guitar licks already lightning fast, why the group (or the producer) felt it necessary to mess with the tone and make it unnecessarily muddy is beyond me. (It's also the first time he's every laid electric guitar on an album, to note). The effect is just distracting to the whole experience, which is unfortunate for everything else the album offers. Perhaps the decision to track the album instead of recording it live to tape, like the band's previous works, is to blame for the post-production.
The fist quarter of the album is an interesting look at where the group's sound could be headed. After 7 albums its writing style is bordering on formulaic: Kick off with an awesome guitar lick, throw in a catchy sing-along foot-stomping chorus, and rinse and repeat. The group actually manages to break this formula, creating some of the grittiest, heaviest songs it ever has, really pulling more from the rock-blues tradition than the more traditional blues Peyton is known for, and the results are promising. "Devils Look like Angels" is a steamy slice to start things off, and "Big Blue Chevy '72" is a song to blast in the car if I've ever heard one.
The band returns to its homemade bread and butter with the rip-roaring ode to summer "Shut the Screen" (Open the door but shut the screen/It's too dang hot and the bug are too dang mean). It's always amazing how the group takes such simple themes and makes great songs out of them, and this is no exception.
The album continues to plow familiar territory, "Don't Grind It Down" is a ode to protecting the mountainous countryside, but notable, if anything for the Reverend's use of mandolin (Which I wish he would have used for more than just flourishing, but it's a start). The Reverend also gives perhaps his best vocal performance yet on the album, really exploring his range on songs like "Something for Nothing." "Brokedown Everywhere" spiritually channels Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere," and is a standing testament to the group's hard touring ethic and the toll it takes on the van getting them there.
The only problem with the back half of the album is that we've mostly seen this bag of tricks before, and it's somewhat jolting after the expanding and fresh start to the album. The songs are still enjoyable, and catchy as all hell, but lack the track-after-track greatness the group achieved with 2010's "The Wages." The album winds down with "Brown County Bound," a slower ballad, and one of the best guitar tones on the album. Just a shame it took the whole thing to get there.
Hot tracks: "Big Blue Chevy '72," "Don't Shut the Screen," "Devils Look Like Angels," "The Money Goes"