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Review: 'The Vagabond Union'
'The Motel Sessions'   

-  Genre: 'Alt/Country' -  Release Date: '2011'

Our Rating:
Before they were two, but now they are one. Vocalist/guitarist Dave Hedeman and vocalist/guitarist John Kenney used to rattle the Carolinas in two different bands; the former once fronted Southern rockers PuddleDuck while Kenney jammed with the post-grunge outfit Rotoglow. Friends since college, Hedeman and Kenney have now united, combining their country and alternative inspirations for a new group, the Vagabond Union. Joined by drummer Dave Cannon, one of Kenney's bandmates in Rotoglow, the Vagabond Union have just released their debut album, "The Motel Sessions," a two-fisted wallop of rocking Americana.

Unlike other alt-country acts that either swing towards rootsy folk or punk-fueled cowboy rage, the Vagabond Union finds the accessible center of both extremes. In other words, the group is faithful to its country background but doesn't succumb to the sell-out mentality of modern Nashville nor the overly raw aesthetic of old-school backwoods purists. "The Motel Sessions" is a record that is indeed commercial; however, it beats with human hearts, ones that have traveled America's lonely nighttime roads. You can imagine the ocean of stars hovering outside a car's mud-stained windows in the swirling, atmospheric riffs of "If You Wanna." Life on the road is littered with hard knocks, and relationships are often the first to tumble as long distances become increasingly distant.

It's refreshing how the Vagabond Union are able to switch-on, switch-off from FM rock radio accessibility to murky introspection without confusing anyone of their true identity. It helps that Hedeman and Kenney don't really sound alike, and neither do their songs; at the same time, there is a consistency to their material, especially in their storytelling, that doesn't make their stylistic shifts jarring. The first cut, "Blue Shoes," is aglow with the enigmatic beauty of mid-80s R.E.M., like something out of "Fables of the Reconstruction" but not as dark or "Lifes Rich Pageant" albeit not as loud. That leads into "Drive," a single-worthy rocker that, when it picks up the pace, is the most delectable of ear candy. Throughout "The Motel Sessions" the Vagabond Union find that sweet spot between major-label slickness and indie authenticity; expect these guys to win over both the jocks and the spectacled hipsters.
  author: Stacey Zering

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The Vagabond Union - The Motel Sessions