As a social liberal residing in the capital city of the Sunflower State, there has been precious little incentive of late to claim publicly my status as a Kansan – but then comes Moreland & Arbuckle and their new album, Seven Cities. At their CD release party on August 23rd in the opulent Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, the trio (yes, a trio – Drummer Kendall Newby is represented by the ampersand, so the joke goes) presented its signature Kansas sound of plaintive lyrics with a dark, driving undercurrent hinting of mayhem just around the corner.
You know you’re at a Moreland & Arbuckle show when Aaron Moreland delves into his trance zone and begins his frenetic pacing, to and fro, back and forth, on the stage with an occasional kick of the left foot for emphasis. At times his persona breaks to the surface as he flashes a quick smile at a friend in the audience, but he pretty much maintains a solemn, intense affect whether he is sliding on his cigar box guitar or plucking his brand new cherry red Epiphone Casino.
It is Dustin Arbuckle who is the voice of the group. With his rich vocals, he never oversings but delivers each song in earnest. His vocal ability is rivaled only by his ability on the harp to add punch and color to each tune. He, too, is capable of twirling frenetic dance moves during his solos which add to the energy beaming off the stage. In addition to providing a solid rhythmic platform for the front men, Kendall Newby’s harmonies add nicely to the texture of the music.
Of Seven Cities’ 13 tracks, eight are original songs and three were written specifically for Moreland & Arbuckle by composers who know them well and nailed the sound and theme of the recording. For the first time, they used an outside producer – Matt Bayles – who is best known for his work with metal; bands such as Mastodon and Isis. Moreland & Arbuckle’s prior efforts have included proud references to their Kansas roots, and this one is no different. The title of their 2008 release 1861 refers to the year Kansas was admitted as a state to the Union, and in 2010, Flood chronicled a devastating flood that wreaked havoc in 18 counties in southeast Kansas.
This time we are launched on Coronado’s quest for the mythical seven cities of gold which brought him to Kansas in vain. The opening song, “Quivira,” sets up the theme permeating the recording – the search for wealth and power, then the downfall. Although the Spanish explorer struck out, Moreland & Arbuckle have a treasure trove of songs in Seven Cities describing their own flaws or pointing out those in others through interesting lyrics and compelling hard-driving music. Having spent time with them off stage, I know that they are stable guys with positive outlooks on life (Moreland continues to maintain his position as a school psychologist for a local school district), so I find it intriguing that they choose to express so much angst in their music.
Arbuckle sings of unfriendly towns that treat visitors as stranger then most, gals who are wasting away, and men who bring gifts of misery. Even the sunshine is broken in the Moreland & Arbuckle’s world. Arbuckle explains that their musical influences – Junior Kimbrough, Howlin’ Wolf – for the most part contain dark and dirty vibes and that writing songs comes more naturally if the subjects at hand are serious.
The group will be embarking on its first tour of the UK in September and will return to the States at the end of the month. To pick up a copy of the record or get more information about their touring plans, check out the website at morelandandarbuckle.com.