Mike and the Moonpies are the unfiltered image of modern-day Americana. They are six friends playing country music and trying to survive in an unfavorable environment. They’re back this year with their fifth studio album, Steak Night at the Prairie Rose. With a combination of sweeping guitars, warm organs and an embrace of traditional, simple recording techniques, they’re proving that country music is far from dead as they reclaim its very essence.
Songwriter Mike Harmeier delivers some of the band’s greatest songs in this record, such as “Beaches of Beloxi” or the title song “Steak Night at the Prairie Rose”, a moving story about paternal love. The album opener, “Road Crew”, is a racing honky-tonk beat with a fiery pedal steel and very lyrical guitars. After the intro, Mike’s voice emerges with authority from the mix and directs the band smoothly to the refrain:
“He’s a rambler, a gambler
He just quit drinking and
He’s on the road crew tonight.”
“Might be Wrong” is a country-blues number with an intimate feel due to drummer Kyle Ponder turning over to the brushes. Dueling guitars and a riveting piano take over the song before the vocals return to end the song. “Steak Night at the Prairie Rose” is an homage to detail and a moving tale about love and time. The song paints a scene at a bar, the Prairie Rose, where the singer and his father enjoy a night out. The pedal steel creates a thin layer of color creating space for guitar and Wurlitzer fills over the commanding bass.
“Getting High at Home” features an outstanding piano part, an accompaniment with an up-tempo ragtime feel. The weight of the tune is carried by the guitars and bass, who really lock in the breaks and hits. Mike’s vocals tiptoe through the notes in a great interpretation of the lyrics, very nuanced and articulate.
“The Last Time” is an epic heartbreak song with a superb and witty refrain:
“That’s the last time I go out of my way
To stand in front of your kids.
The last time I quietly lay
Under your fingertips.
Last time I hold you close
Just to say we are friends.
The last time I’ll be there for you
Until you need me again.”
The energy of this desperate song is contagious, specially when the drums drop out at the end and relaunch it into the final chorus, effectively making it the classiest tune in the album. After setting up a devastating case against the muse behind the song, Mike dodges and abdicates… Until you need me again. What a beautiful plot twist.
Another masterpiece, Beaches of Biloxi was written in two different casinos while the band was on tour, as Mike tells in the album’s commentary with producer Adam Odor. Kicking off with arpeggiated guitars and a singularly rhythmical bass, Mike tells a story of misfortune and bottles.
“Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be” blends wah-wah pedals with distorted guitars creating a thick sound, a unique case in the album. A sentimental ballad that reflects on a life of questionable choices, “The Worst Thing” is empowered by the appearance of a harmonica and the addition of an accordion, further highlighted in a dark bridge that serves as a smooth transition to a new key. “Wedding Band” is a laid-back composition with an energetic double-time chorus. The minimalistic drums and percussive guitars allow the mellow vocal to shine through.
“We’re Gone”, the album closer, is a classic rock ‘n roll beat with the spotlight moving between the organ and the guitars. The looseness of the band is ever-present as they storm through the choruses exchanging licks.
Steak Night at the Prairie Rose is an ode to the classics of songwriting; simple, direct. The sound of the band has matured into becoming a unique one among today’s country stars and that’s what really matters in music; that the folks at the bar can see you’re being you.
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