On Greetings From The Neon Frontier, Nashville’s The Wild Feathers embrace their country-tinged roots without losing their flair for rocking rhythms and desert-swept ambiance. The ten-tracked new album finds the four-piece outfit right in their sweet spot—delivering a hodgepodge grabbag highly-influenced by the timeless music of the ’60s and ’70s as well as their adventures out on the road as a touring band.
The Wild Feathers, made up of vocalists Ricky Young, Taylor Burns, Joel King and Ben Dumas, unabashedly lean on their record collections for inspiration in style and tone. You see as much in the band’s affinity for covers of classics on their laidback “Truckstop Series.” With everyone from Guy Clark and Bob Dylan to The Allman Brothers Band and Faces, the band seemingly has no limits on where they draw music inspiration. Naturally, that trickles down into their own catalog.
With Greetings From The Neon Frontier, the band had more than its fair share of songs to choose from. With Young, Burns and King all throwing individually written songs, along with a mix of co-writes from the band collectively, they had upwards of 50 on the table for the studio album.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” Burns tells Wide Open Country. “When we were trying to narrow it down to 10, it was a difficult process. Sometimes too many options can lead to paralysis by analysis.”
Though the filtering process can take a bit longer, Burns and company found the right puzzle pieces to make Neon Frontier a lean, vibrant and radiant album about the highs, lows and in-betweens that make up life on the road and being in a band.
Primarily recorded in two weeks in late September and early October, the quartet was once again joined by producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Brothers Osborne, Little Big Town) on Neon Frontier, the band’s third full-length album and follow-up to 2016’s Lonely Is A Lifetime and 2013’s self-titled debut. It also marks as the third time The Wild Feathers worked with Joyce at the helm of the project.
“What we love about Jay is that he kind of becomes the fifth member,” says Burns. “He’s hands-on, but he’s not super intrusive. We have this implicit trust in him. He gets what we’re saying without having to explain it too much. We’ll tell him what the vibe of a song is and he’ll get it without us having to belabor the point.”
Joyce’s ability to think like a band member as well as producer is a fine line to walk. His ideas often spark the band’s run of jams and extended outros while never going overboard or staying too long.
You hear that extension on songs such as the woodsy unknown of “No Man’s Land,” the Tom Petty-tinged road rambler “Golden Days” (especially with its’ “Running Down A Dream” outro) and cool early morning breeze of “Hold Onto Love.”
Though Burns and company often downplay just how tight and bright their harmonies are, part of Neon Frontier‘s magic is when the trio of vocalists come together. Often, it’s on wide open anthemic singalongs like single “Big Sky,” which reminds you of the gentle glow of CSNY. On the straightforward love song “Stand By You,” they come together for an early Beatlesesque toe-tapper.
“We don’t even really consider ourselves good harmony singers,” says Burns. “We kind of have their Keith Richards or Rick Danko approach. It’s more based around character than precision. But I think because we’ve played and written all these songs together, we just know one another’s vocal range. Then we look in the song and figure out where it’s best suited.”
While the band certainly soars on these anthemic refrains, there’s a rarified beauty found when they just shade in behind whoever’s singing lead.
On the reserved country ballad “Two Broken Hearts,” Burns leads one of these magical moments. With accents of fiddle, timely keys and a tearful pedal steel, “Two Broken Hearts” plays out like a broken moment fluttering around twilight.
“Sometimes love, it’s just not enough and we break each other’s hearts no matter the cost,” sings Burns on the lonesome lament. His voice, it’s weathered by late nights and worn by the situation at hand.
Standout track “Wildfire” sets up to be one of the band’s finest moments to date. With tender harmonies and a “Tequila Sunrise” vibe, “Wildfire” is like a stroll in the early morning out in the desert. It’s filled with self-reflection and solitary wanderings where the trio of Burns, Young and King all take on a verse and meet up on the sun-soaked chorus.
“We were kind of at this crossroads in our lives,” says Burns. “The guys just had had kids and we were trying to write for the record. It’s a reflective song about us being out on the road.”
A lot of Neon Frontier has these small moments surrounded by a rush of thrilling, sharp guitars and soaring singalong choruses. Much like an exhale and recharge, they find The Wild Feathers delivering serene and contemplative flashes that pace the album’s otherwise towering and ambitious drive.
Though all from Texas and Oklahoma, the band holds an affinity for the sprawling deserts of California and the open west at large. Undoubtedly, the first offerings of early alternative country by the likes of The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Eagles and the like bleed into their sometimes desert-toned palette.
Still, the quartet venture into newfound territory on the Mexicali border shaded “Every Morning I Quit Drinkin’,” a slow-paced standout written by Young.
“It’s something we’ve never really done before,” says Burns. “That was a cool Jay moment. He made it really go from this acoustic country song to this trippy vibraphone Southern California song.”
Greetings From The Neon Frontier is due out June 29 on Warner Bros. Records.