Photo by Rich Zollner
Massy Ferguson, Beth Bombara
Southgate House Revival, 111 E 6th St, Newport, KY
9pm show, Free
For more than a dozen years, Massy Ferguson has proudly planted their boots on both sides of the country-rock divide, carving out their brand of amplified Americana along the way. Based in Seattle, they’ve become international torchbearers of a sound that’s distinctly moody Northwest Americana, with a touring history that spans fourteen different countries. On their sixth full-length studio album, Joe’s Meat and Grocery, they double down on their rock & roll roots, mixing bar-band twang with a raw, guitar-driven bang. Gluing those sounds together is the songwriting partnership of bass-playing frontman Ethan Anderson and guitarist Adam Monda. Their songs spin stories of small-town adolescence, big-city adulthood, and the long miles of highway that stretch in between.
Long before Massy Ferguson played their first show in 2006, Anderson spent his childhood outside Seattle in the rural reaches of the Pacific Northwest. His parents were strictly religious, and he found himself at the local Pentecostal church almost every weekend, watching as his fellow congregants beat their Bibles and spoke in tongues. Unfortunately, the spirit didn’t move him in quite the same way. In search of clarity, Anderson turned to music: first to the country and folk artists whose songs reminded him of home, and later to the hard-edged rock bands who ruled the roost in Seattle, where he’d eventually relocate as an adult. Those two stylistic extremes — country and rock & roll — continue to rear their heads in his music. Anderson’s past continues to rear its head, too, and it’s woven throughout the moody offerings on Joe’s Meat and Grocery. Massy Ferguson’s records have always sounded cinematic, like a Springsteen-worthy portrayal of blue-collar life in America’s northwestern pocket.
Joe’s Meat and Grocery, named after the family store Monda’s grandpa ran in early-1900s Wenatchee, WA, continues that tradition of northwest blue-collar and does so in montage-form, zooming into various scenes from the lives of co-writers Anderson and Monda in four-minute increments. The details are rich, the context implied, and the writing is stunningly simple, like the literal minimalism of Anderson’s favorite authors: Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Carver, Dennis Johnson, and Willie Vlautin. Songs like “Miles Away” and “Save What Couldn’t Be Saved” give dual blasts of heartland-worthy hooks and the kind of minimalistic honesty that the album title suggests.
Don’t mistake Joe’s Meat and Grocery for an Anderson solo project, though. Adam Monda, who helped launch the band in 2006, plays an integral role in the songwriting process, contributing melodic ideas and other launchpad ideas. Made complete by contributions from bandmates, drummer Dave Goedde, and keyboardist, Fred Slater, Joe’s shines its light on dark memories, pivotal moments, small details, and the wisdom gained by years of doing foolish things. Looking to capture a raw and immediate sound, the band kept things loose, throwing together arrangements on the spot and finishing lyrics moments before recording them in the vocal booth. As a result, there’s an urgency to Joe’s Meat and Grocery, from its widescreen-worthy anthems to its mid-tempo highlights. It’s the punky, half-cocked confidence of college rock mixed with the hungover honesty of alt-country. In short, it’s Massy Ferguson — a band whose electric stomp sounds like the soundtrack to the American Everyman.