With ‘Brighter Skies’ being an EP that was added to later on, ‘4000 Miles To Nashville’ is, in effect, Dexeter’s first full-length album. The part-duo, part-quartet (or perhaps even more depending on the show that night and what’s required) have had a fantastic twelve months that has included two successful C2C performances, multiple opening slots for the hottest UK and US acts, endless critical praise and will culminate in an album launch show at The Borderline on July 3rd. For Dee Dexeter and Gareth Thomas, the core of the band, it’s been a whirlwind of unprecedented success. For those outside watching them leap from opportunity to achievement, it’s been far more of a realistic representation, both of their talent and of what the UK country scene needs right now.
With the scattered, grassroots nature of the British country music industry as it stands, the majority of which are solo artists and either very pop-sounding or very much Americana, it’s been refreshing to see a band, most notably fronted by a woman, making music that cuts down the middle and also pushes towards something of a soul vibe. An electric live band (the setting in which they made their name), the variety of instrumentation and Dee’s piercing, dancing vocal on this record find them building on their reputation and still giving fans more to take a bite from.
For example, most will be familiar with ‘Slow It Down’, the first single that was released from the album last year and also the band’s first music video. It’s an incredibly soulful, somewhat cabaret style of song peppered with accordion and dobro, and built around a sultry off-beat rarely heard within country music. Taking what fans know of them one step further, they go for a similar vibe on album opener ‘Breathe’, beginning with a soulful a capella-style refrain that is punctuated with a dramatic chorus of female harmonies. It sets the tone for an almost R&B rhythm and melody, surrounded by the 70s-esque twang and reverberation of electric guitar for a clever genre hybrid that doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of either style.
Fans are also familiar with ‘Older Now’, a staple of the band’s live show and indeed the center of their magical crowd-participation moment at C2C 2015. The album is treated to two different renditions of the songs, with one the original guitar-based version while the other a piano-based version that has been included as the B-Side for single ‘Meet Me There’. I’m not sure the full album needed the piano version in addition to its placement on the other side of the single, but I suppose if they were to do this with any song it would have to be this one. A beautiful little track, the original version begins slowly, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, before kicking the tempo up a notch and adding dynamic percussion, more guitars, and fiddle along with the group’s thick harmonies. It’s certainly become their anthem, and rightly so; with a catchy singalong chorus and a brilliant lyric looking fondly back on younger days, but happily accepting the passing of time and having aged, it takes the well-trodden topic of nostalgia and gives it another layer.
Another track on the record that is likely to become an anthem, and one that fans are going to be less familiar with, is the title offering. One of the more bluesy songs on the record stylistically, but with some clever pop songcraft, Dee offers consolation and reassurance to those dreaming of becoming country artists and going to Nashville. As much as it’ll provide much-needed encouragement to budding UK-based musicians, it comes across for the most part as a reminder to Dexeter themselves that they can actually go out and become the artists they want to be. Seeing as music remains a part-time career for them and so many others, I wouldn’t be surprised if this song came about as a kind of note to self. Even the biggest country artists in the UK (save for a couple of acts) are struggling along.
But any struggle is not evident when listening to this record. From the atmospheric country pop goodness of hypothetically-grounded “what if” track ‘Meet Me There’ (the latest single), to 70s-inspired rambling foot-tapper ‘Mirror’ (about leaving this small town behind), the band’s musicianship and solid country songwriting is clear. Refreshing, too, is how live it sounds, with production qualities that recall the country and folk music of yesteryear even as they play with singer/songwriter rock on ‘Getaway Car’ and melancholic Americana on ‘Falling’.
Perhaps the only struggle we can pull from ‘4000 Miles To Nashville’ is the fact that they aren’t in Nashville. Much of the narratives center around wanting to take a step back from everyday life and run away to a better place, as well as more conventional tales of heartbreak and relationship disintegration, such as the exquisite ‘House of Cards’. Still, we get the sense that if they were in Nashville, the music wouldn’t be quite as unique, quite as poignant, and quite as reflective of country music in the UK in 2015. I can imagine this is only the beginning.
‘4000 Miles To Nashville’ is due for release on July 3rd.