America by Havalina (Review)

A grand musical road trip that, as meandering as it is sometimes, always promises a surprise around the next bend.
America - Havalina

There’s an inherent desire in people to travel. Maybe it’s to see if the grass is greener on the other side, or just to pick up crappy little souvenirs to give your friends. Whatever drives it, it’s there. For example, just the other day, my friend and I were talking about driving across America on the great Interstate 80, visiting small towns and getting into the sort of crazy adventures they base movies on.

Of course, every grand roadtrip needs theme music. It’s funny how music is often a stronger reminder of a location or place than a picture can be. I’ve seen pictures of the California coast, but they don’t really compare to the images conjured up by the Beach Boys or The Ventures. Same goes for the Appalachians, or the swamps… or Seattle.

So… we need travelling music and Havalina Rail Co. has released an album full of it. Essentially a musical journey across America, America is a meandering journey, starting off in California, going through the desert and into the deep South, snaking northwards in New York, then heading west in a full circle. Along the way, Havalina plays every “American” genre of music, whether it be bluegrass, delta blues, country, surf, or even hip-hop, without ever sounding contrived or forced. The scary thing is how natural and at home the band sounds, regardless of what style they happen to be playing.

There’s the Morricone-esque “Dark Skies,” the southern “Mississippi River,” and “Flower of the Desert” (which uses every country music cliché and then some). There’s even the short but ultra-funky “United State(s)” with its turntable and organ action.

Although it lacks some of the spiritual and emotional release of Havalina’s previous album Russian Lullabies, and drags a little bit in the middle of its 70 minutes, America is a lot of fun to listen to. There’s a very open, relaxed mood throughout the album, as if the gang wouldn’t mind if you sat in with the whiskey jug or washboard for a song or two.

Some might classify this as folk music, which is probably closer to the truth than Havalina’s label as a “swing” band. (Havalina transcended that genre’s inherent shallowness ages ago.) Havalina’s music is “American” music (npi), whether it be deep Louisiana swamp blues, California pop, or New York hip-hop. Their music suggests a grand musical road trip that, as meandering as it may sometimes be, always promises a surprise around the next bend.

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