Despite an eight-year run as one of Hampton Roads’ most successful Americana bands, The Muckrakes say they are heading in a new direction with their newest album, “Comet.”
“The Muckrakes are known for their alt-country sound,” they announced on their website, “but on this album, the band goes into a different direction of sonic guitars, glammouring, spaced-out keyboards, and balls-out rocking drumbeats that seems natural to the group almost as their well-known and respected alt-county flavor. On ‘Comet,’ the Muckrakes surprisingly break away from their alt-country legs and try on a pair of psychedelic-sonic-rock boots … and it works!”
The new direction may reflect the band’s ever-changing line-up. While Billy England (keyboards), Jon Owings (vocals, guitar and banjo) and Mike “Spider” Turner (lead guitar) have been with the band since it started in 2008, they’ve seen a handful of bandmates come and go over the years. The current line-up includes Rick Isotalo on drums, Mark Smilor on pedal steel and mandolin, and—until Friday’s album release party at Work Release in Norfolk—John Tingley on bass, guitar and vocals.
“This is probably my last Hampton Roads performance after 18 years,” Tingley said on Monday. “Now this whole chapter is coming to end for me.”
Tingley is heading to Denver, but he said he’s doing everything he can to make his last Muckrakes show a memorable one. “We’ve taken this show more seriously in that we’ve picked our favorite songs, planned the evening as best we could, practiced our butts off and reached out to the media. It should be a win-win for everyone: the audience, the club, the band,” he said. “That’s what I’d like to see.”
“Comet” includes eight songs recorded and mixed at the band’s studio in Newport News and mastered by Todd Washburn at Washburn Mastering in Norfolk. While it’s available digitally and on CD, it’s also the band’s first vinyl release—pressed at Morphius Records in Baltimore.
Preview the album here. The band recommends listening to “This Halloween” for a taste of its new style. (It’s a confident and well-crafted song—jangly, rhythmic rock a little reminiscent of classic Cars until a nice break that brings to mind Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree.)
Good news for loyal fans: The band hasn’t abandoned its alt-country roots altogether. “Comet” includes a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Lover’s Lullaby” that has already drawn high praise from his widow, Jeanene Van Zandt. “I just wanted to tell you how wonderful your band’s cover of ‘Lover’s Lullaby’ made me feel,” she wrote to the band. “That was the last song Townes wrote to me after the birth of our daughter, Katie Belle. I keep playing it over and over. I LOVE it! I know Townes would too.”
The Muckrakes will host an album release party for “Comet” on Friday at Work Release in Norfolk. Daniel Neale will open with an acoustic set at 8 p.m., and Richmond’s Heartracer will play after the Muckrakes. Admission is free. Guests under 21 are welcome but will be charged $10.