For Athens, Georgia-based rock band Dead Confederate, sticking with the familiar works. Since forming in 2006, the band has unleashed its brand of alt-country with two EPs and one full-length album. Since then, the quintet has drawn favorable comparisons to Nirvana and My Morning Jacket. With its latest release, Sugar, the band keeps with the consistency that garnered its fan base in the first place.
Though the album’s title may reflect a certain sweetness that could only be associated with pop music, Dead Confederate did what it does best: wrote solid rock songs. On “In the Dark”, Hardy Morris stands out with solid vocals and equally impressive guitar solos, with a guitar sound reminiscent of vintage Neil Young—think Live Rust. It’s a little more stripped down when compared to the group’s 2008 release, Wrecking Ball.
Recorded in Athens with acclaimed producer John Agnello (The Hold Steady, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth), every song packs a certain punch. “Father Figure” is one standout track, eerily reminiscent of early Smashing Pumpkins. Take notice to Jason Scarboro’s intense drumming as it carries most of the instrumentation on the track.
“Giving It All Away” is a Southern rocker with an alternative edge, featuring a guest appearance by Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis, which could have been partially due to Agnello’s presence as producer. This is one of the better tracks on the album. The tempo builds throughout, culminating with a great guitar solo and vocals that show some intriguing range.
As cool as it is to see J. Mascis on this album, the highlight of the album is the slower, acoustic-driven, “Run from the Gun”. The song is quite a contrast from the rest of the album. Morris’ vocals have the lo-fi charm that would make Daniel Johnston jealous. However, the band really takes a chance here by straying from its grungy comfort zone. In fact, for the first time on the album, the band reveals what had people talking about them in the first place. By harnessing its songwriting and taking risks, as they do here, the band could make the leap to the next level in the rock pantheon, a level that would allow it to be brought up in the same conversation as its influences.
Overall, Sugar is oozing potential. Dead Confederate’s songs show a greater composure and a maturity that cannot be overstated. Is this album reinventing the band’s genre? No. But, if you want an album that’s simply a rocker, and you want to be on board with a band that has great potential to be a fixture on your car’s radio, then Sugar is for you. Believe it or not, if the band’s collective songwriting can make the jump, then they have the potential to be the next big thing from Athens. But that’s a big if.