September 22, 2015 · 8:00pm
A foot-stompin’ good time with Sundy Best!
In the universe of music-making, countless debates have been had comparing and contrasting less vs. more, style vs. substance, form vs. function.
Those debates have little merit if the final product isn’t excellent. Quality trumps all other quantitative discussions.
When you look at the recent output of Sundy Best, the Lexington, Ky.-bred duo comprising Kris Bentley and Nick Jamerson, you certainly see they have the “quantity” side taken care of. Since signing with eOne Music in 2013, the band has released three separate studio projects — a deluxe version of their independently produced album Door Without A Screen, early 2014’s Bring Up The Sun, and now, a brand new collection of songs titled Salvation City, their second effort working with veteran producer RS Field (Justin Townes Earle, Allison Moorer, Todd Snider, Webb Wilder, Sonny Landreth.)
And this is where the excellence comes in.
With each step along the way — even the quick-step nature of rolling out music almost as quickly as they can write and record it — you hear the maturity, the confidence and the capability of this duo rise and rise, especially on the tracks that make up Salvation City, a mythical place Jamerson describes as more an attitude than anything concrete.
“Even with social media, I don’t think the world is in any worse shape than its ever has been, but it can really bring you down, if you’re always on Facebook and Twitter and constantly connected,” he says. “I found the only time we could really escape it was at our shows, when we were working.
“It’s like we were creating this little separate environment away from all the negative stuff, so that’s where we came up with ‘Salvation City,’” he continues. “It’s whatever in your life that’s an escape from the nonsense that’s out there, if that keeps you sane, that’s your ‘Salvation City.’”
People just getting their first taste of Sundy Best over the past couple of years might have chosen to look simply at the form the band took — Jamerson on an acoustic guitar, Bentley on a cajón drum — and overlook the function the sparseness served, delivering raw, yet powerful down-home sonics merged with the childhood friends’ intertwining vocals.
For Salvation City’s season, though, Jamerson, Bentley and Field have chosen to flip the switch, not only adding more electric instrumentation to the mix, but also adding to the variety of styles the band was already playing adeptly in.
“RS says one of two things when he’s asked about our music,” Bentley says. “First, if he’s asked what it sound like, he calls it ‘Appalachiadelicfolksoulrock’n’roll.’ And second, if he’s asked if it’s country, he says, ‘Yeah, it’s country music. It’s made in this country.’”
It’s that trust between band and producer that allowed Sundy Best to manifest new ideas and sounds in this latest studio go-round, conducted in the midst of a busy 2014 that had them on the road near-constantly, experiencing career goals such as multiple appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and headlining a sold-out show in New York City.
“We find out new things about ourselves and our music every day we’re in the studio with him,” Bentley says of Field’s influence. “Every time we talk we learn something, and as Nick and I continue to write, we send him stuff for feedback. It’s a relationship beyond the studio. It’s more than just the music.”
“As long as everybody’s on the same page, you can never have too many good ideas,” Jamerson says. “It’s OK for somebody to say ‘you’re wrong’ if you are wrong. It takes more than one person, it takes more than two people; you have to have somebody steering the ship, but if nobody’s rowing the boat, you’re not going anywhere.
Which is why tracks like “I Want You To Know (World Famous Love Song)” sounds like a 21st Century Marty Robbins reignition, and why “My Sweet Thing” has a fuzz-box funkiness and loops galore, and why they fit right alongside the cautionary tales of road life found on “Get Back Home To You,” the electro-acoustic stomp of “Shotgun Lady,” the cheeky lament of “Piece of Work,” and the up-tempo, dream-chasing challenge of “Do You Wanna Go?”
The music and ideas on Salvation City fit anywhere and everywhere simultaneously, a challenge in an era that demands easy identifiers, especially when it comes to music.
“What is a genre anymore?” Jamerson asks. “Really, in this day, it’s either good music or it’s bad music. If people enjoy it, that’s enough for us.”
“It starts with who we are as people. We’re as real and honest and genuine as we want people to be with us,” Bentley continues. “I think, hopefully, someday people will hear that through the music as we continue to try to do things our way. We just want to be as much of ourselves as we can.”