Divided into two discs in the same fashion as their debut, The Boxmasters work the same angles all over again on Modbilly and offer up one side of original compositions and one side of covers.
Comprised of W.R. “Bud” Thornton on vocals and drums, J.D. Andrew on guitars and bass, and Mike Butler on lead guitar and lap steel, The Boxmasters deliver a sort of electric hillbilly/60s mod sound with tinges of country thrown in for good measure. It is perhaps the perfect sound with which to mask Thornton’s lack of vocal handiness, as he strains to reach notes he has no business tackling throughout the recording.
The throwback image and the concept of three good ol’ boys in suits with thin ties is a nice touch, even if it does little to add substance to the actual music. The boogie stays the same, for the most part, on each and every track and the trio doesn’t push the envelope. As such, the songs start to liquefy into a monotonous heap of three chords, plain drum patterns, and characterless vocals.
The originals side opens with “Heartbreakin’ Wreck.” It’s a hopeful preamble, thumping with Butler’s guitar rolling out some good grooves. Unfortunately it becomes unsurprising fairly quickly and Thornton’s vocals leave an awful lot to be desired as he scales upwards with a sort of drowning-cat tenor.
Other tracks drive through comparable substance, with “That’s Why Tammy Has My Car” playing with some fun lyrics but unpacking them over a groove that sounds an lot like the song before it and the song before that and the song before that and…
The basic mass of twangy guitar, unadorned tap-tap drums, and Thornton’s one-dimensional vocals colours each song the same shade of gray. There is no grain and no life to these tunes.
The covers disc is a slight improvement for the mere fact that The Boxmasters at least try to do something with various old favourites. Unfortunately, that “something” happens to be an inept fitting of those classics into that Boxmasters’ humdrum three-chord manner and any significance or sense of adventure is swept away hastily.
“Gentle on My Mind,” for instance, adds the same fundamental tone to the song Glen Campbell popularized. And “The Lord Knows I’m Drinkin’” spins the Cal Smith tune right into the Modbilly hurricane, thankfully adding a drop of colour with Butler’s solo.
With Modbilly, The Boxmasters have created a featureless compilation of rockabilly, country, and mod tunes. Led by Thornton, this is one trio that could use a little extra something to go on top of the tame cluster of unimportance they’ve created. Maybe a touch of gravy is in order.