The Kansas-based duo Moreland and Arbuckle is something of an anomaly in the blues/rock world – a constantly evolving, musically challenging entity that doesn’t rely on the standards of the genre’s storied past in order to survive. On the band’s fifth album, “7 Cities,” they add new drummer Kendall Newby to foster a fresh sense of rock-edged discharge to their harmonica/guitar attack (that’s right, no bass needed) and produce one of the few Delta blues–influenced concept albums in existence.
Chronicling the journey of Spanish explorer Coronado’s search for the elusive Seven Cities of Gold – the odyssey passing through Moreland and Arbuckle’s stomping grounds in the Midwest Kansas prairies – the album is as instrumentally volatile as it is thematically ambitious. Opening track “Quivira” gives a first-person account of Coronado’s possible headspace during his trek – vocalist Dustin Arbuckle bleeds sympathy for a dejected human being who never achieved his lofty goals (“There was no gold to speak of, so I hung my head and cried”). Aaron Moreland’s overdriven, open-tuned guitar grime adds a fire of urgency to the deeply personal interpretation of the story. The album’s production, handled by Matt Bayles, who has worked with heavies like Mastodon, is sonically dense and layered in calloused, roots-infused jangle.
“The Devil and Me,” a British Invasion-influenced, three-chord heartland garage rocker, further examines Coronado’s recess of mind, with Arbuckle seeming to fiendishly smirk the lyrics, “My heart’s black, darling, so’s my soul.” The band delves into progressive-leaning country territory with “Broken Sunshine,” a heart-worn track filled with emotive shades of gray, twanging without mercy – until around the three-minute mark, where it’s jam time from there on out.
Much like contemporaries The Black Keys have built upon their blues foundations with forward-thinking visions of soul, pop, and cleverly constructed songwriting angles, so too has Moreland and Arbuckle tempered its blues with a lyrical longing, road-weary angst, and fearless introspection, all with an ability to keep their advancing musicality in check by a primal backbeat.
Moreland and Arbuckle ‘7 Cities’ Rating: W W W W V
-Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent