Live Review: Tyler Childers / AC30 / Prison Book Club at V Club June 11, 2011

By Dave Mistich

For some unexplained reason, there has always seemed to be a lack of alt-country in the area. It's one of those styles that hasn't ever been exclusive to any one region of the country, with bands like Uncle Tupelo (Illinois), Old 97's (Texas), Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown (North Carolina), and Drive-By Truckers (Athens, Georgia via the legendary Muscle Shoals, Alabama) all springing up with little regard for their respective geography. It's just proof in point that Americana holds no reservations about where we are from: sounds and stories like these are common ground in every corner of our country.

Sure, location becomes an influence on the inflection each band has focused on. The Truckers' socio-political storytelling of the "dirty south" and the 97's twangs about Texas put an indelible stamp on each of their respective catalogues. Regardless, alt-country--like any sub-genre of popular music--has yet to be confined by it's origin and eventual audience.

But looking around West Virginia and the surrounding states, alt-country has somehow missed our scene--mostly on a local level. It's confusing, considering the lifestyle and down home ethic we find ourselves involved in from day-to-day. Saturday night at the V Club somewhat calmed all those frustrations with a line-up that was chock full of it.

Paintsville, Kentucky's Tyler Childers started off the evening with his one-man with whiskey and serious heartache style. For being (and certainly looking) so young, Childers' talent is mature--far more so than his innocent, blue-collar farm boy image might suggest.

It's difficult to speak of Childers' in the pantheon of alt-country greats quite yet, but his vocals evoke Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne equally. With songs about whiskey and women written by a man in his early 20s, it may seem a bit premature to hand him a trophy, but the kid sure deserves a gold plaque.

AC30 isn't quite ever going to hit alt-country the way they could or should. But that detail is minor. The gentlemen in this band are spectacularly efficient players who know their boundaries.

The band's cover of "September Gurls" by Big Star is likely the closest they'll ever come to alt-country (at least for now)--even though power-pop touches lightly on the genre's tendencies. Regardless, though, the band found ways to fit right in with the rest of the evening's lineup.

And there's a certain level of respect and honor that needs credited with the group's style of playing. Few bands--especially led by prolific players like Carroll and the rest of his semi-supergroup in Huntington care about the songs more than their own individual shining moments.

Sure, because of Carroll's status, he's the de-facto frontman (and this fact is obvious, and maybe a bit uncomfortable for those surrounding him at moments). Yet the man shares the craftsmanship of not only songwriting, but more importantly, playing with his fellow members.

But enough about that and back to the topic at hand--alt country.

Prison Book Club is widely regarded as a collective of some of West Virginia's finest. With members from The Demon Beat and The Fox Hunt, the band gets an almost instant promotion to supergroup status. While this label is somewhat warranted, neither of the two groups have attained the status past a regional scale.

However, what is undeniable about the group is the fact that they're the best alt-country outfit this area has seen. Sure, there's a lack of competition for them but it would take quite awhile for anyone to match them.

Led by the lead licks of Adam Meisterhans, the group sound comes across as a distinct point somewhere between Lucero and the Mike Cooley-penned tunes of Drive-By Truckers. His paying is exact and technical, almost sounding as if he's playing slide at moments. It's somewhat remarkable that Meisterhans, who has made a name for himself with a Pete Townshend-like persona in The Demon Beat, could match the quality of his playing in other genres--yet it's almost more impressive. He strips it down to simple strumming with Prison Book Club when needed and balances those moments with tasteful and thoughtful leads.

Singer-guitarist John R. Miller and bassist (and occasional vocalist) Tucker Riggleman are equally impressive. They may be slightly less flashy than Meisterhans, yet their ability to lock in with the fast paced drumming of Andrew Ford (Where the hell did this guy come from, by the way?) is note-worthy.

Miller seems fit for this style of music, there is little doubt. Both lyrically and vocally, he comes across as well-versed in the genre and life-experienced to back it up on a practical level. There's a level of authenticity that matches his talent--and it's one of those things that cannot be learned or practiced, but rather accepted and made use of.

With nights like these, one can only hope that new bands in the area will make note--should the alt-country scene really take off.

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