Levee Drivers Embody Americana On Motel City Honey
August John Lutz II stakes Levee Drivers’ claim to the spirit, as well as the sound, of Americana with full-length LP Motel City Honey.
Americana is one of the most interesting types of musical genres. Americanamusic.org defines the genre as “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B, and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.” While Americana might live in a “world apart from the pure forms” it draws upon, it has its own unique sound that is instantly recognizable. There are plenty of bands that play Americana style music, but there aren’t many that actually embody the spirit of the music as completely as the Philadelphia based Levee Drivers do. The heavy rasp of frontman/songwriter August John Lutz II, coupled with the band’s varying two-step and beyond rhythms, and the twangy, echoey, and at times grungy guitar tones, coalesce around stories of addictions and afflictions ranging from drugs to love in a grand style that is irresistible in any genre.
Throughout Motel City Honey, the Levee Drivers’ first full-length LP, every one of the aforementioned roots-oriented sounds can be heard, often in the same song. Lutz’s soulful delivery cements the disparate sounds of both country twang and blues guitar lines driven by a two-step rhythm on opening track “Off Them Tracks” setting the stage for what’s to come, while perfectly illustrating what Americana at its best can be. “Cinnamon Eyes” recalls the outlaw country of John Cash at its most breakneck. Title track “Motel City Honey” is a stomping romp through roots rock that recalls the early days of rock and roll in all its minimalist glory. “Stock Car Burnin’” most closely swerves towards a more contemporary country sound than most here, but is actually listenable. Meaning that it’s not the cookie-cutter type of pop-country that dominates popular country music stations right now (even on subscription stations like those on SiriusXM).
What gives the Levee Drivers’ brand of Americana its depth though is Lutz’s storyteller lyrics and vocals. “Miss Recklessness” is a prime example. While Lutz’s storytelling isn’t quite as in-depth as his neighboring New Jerseyian Bruce Springsteen’s storytelling, his choice of lyrics about the titular Miss Recklessness’ drug problems subtly draws the listener in and invites them to fill in the blanks. His painful, grasping rasp is full of tension and hurt, as well as resolve and resilience, giving gravity to the story that goes beyond just the lyrical content. “Swingin’ Off the Ropes,” with its slow bluesy mosey-along, tells the tried and true story of unrequited love, but while the story is an oft-told one, it feels relevant and fresh due to Lutz’s touching drawl. The addiction to his unrequited love is as painful, and simultaneously rapturous, as Miss Recklessness’ addiction to her drugs “that don’t work” anymore is.
Much of the music that Americana draws upon is rooted in communities and times that battled through tough times. These tough times included Jim Crow, The Great Depression, and all manners of personal, political, and economic strife. Much of this roots music wasn’t a commiseration in these trials and tribulations, even though they often addressed them explicitly. It is Lutz’s powerful indulgence in both the pain and rapture of Americana’s roots music that gives the band its power and legitimacy. Through it, Levee Drivers stake a legitimate claim to Americana’s spirit, as well as sound.