Have Gun, Will Travel’s third album, “Mergers & Acquisitions,” has all the markings of a game changer.
The Bradenton band’s first release for Denver-based Suburban Home Records, it represents the best of everything singer/songwriter Matt Burke has created since he started his noble Americana journey as a solo project with the ultra rare “Have Gun, Will Travel” EP.
Issued locally in a clever cardboard jacket back in 2006, the disc became the springboard from which he would launch the tight, constantly improving quartet rounded out by younger brother Daniel Burke (bass/vocals), J.P. Beaubien (drums/vocals) and Scott Anderson (guitar, vocals). On Nov. 1, “Mergers & Acquisitions,” will be available nationwide via Amazon, iTunes and others.
Floridians get a chance to purchase the disc a bit earlier at three CD release shows: today at Double live in Gainesville, Friday at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa and Saturday at Aces Live in Bradenton.
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“Mergers & Acquisitions” should appeal to the band’s growing fan base, but also to anyone who digs Gram Parsons, John Prine or Woody Guthrie, just to name a few artists Burke has tapped for inspiration.
Burke’s reedy vocals are an ideal vessel whether he’s trying to find right in a “wicked, wicked world” over a beautifully sad, banjo-driven melody (the album opener “Dream No More”); or sneering through the harmonica-laced locomotive romp “Song of Seven Sisters” (which recalls a solid outtake from Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”).
“M&A” also finds HGWT having fun on record for the first time.
“Thirteen Miles to Empty,” featuring guest vocals by Devon Stuart of the Takers, is the band laughing its way through the rigors of life on the road.
Burke’s at his best, though, on the steel guitar weeper “Katharine, Don’t Fall Off the Wagon.”
It’s about a greasy-spoon waitress working the late shift while grappling with the constant pull of alcoholism. Her old friends offer anything but help.
“Drunks in the diner all know her by name,” Burke sings. “Saying, ‘Since you got sober this town ain’t the same.’”
It’s a five-minute masterpiece about a struggling single mother who remains sober for nearly a year before weakening the day “her only daughter was set to be wed.”
“She took a few shots, got drunk and forgot, spent the afternoon passed out in bed,” Burke sings with spot-on emotion. “Mother and daughter haven’t spoke since that day, she looks at the phone and thinks, ‘What would I say?’”
And we, the listener, can’t help but want to put our arms around the anti-heroine when the chorus comes around one final, unforgettable time:
“Katharine, don’t fall off that wagon / Dragging your burden around / Sooner or later it’s bound to get better / But it can’t get much worse for you now.”
Burke has toured nationally with his indie rock trio The Chase Theory and now Have Gun.
And many songs on the new album are about men in motion: “Freightliner” (in keeping with HGWT tradition, a fresh remake from the self-titled EP) “Disappearing Kind,” “Thirteen Miles to Empty” and “Streets of New England” being the most obvious examples.
But Burke and his band mates, which recorded much of “M&A” at their downtown practice space, have never abandoned Bradenton.
Never been removed from the working class.
Never forgot those feelings of rent-due anxiety or wanting so much to somehow help all those Katharines.
And that’s what helps make “Mergers & Acquisitions” that rare album of wit and compassion: contemporary meditations set to timeless sounds.
A CD well worth every hard-earned buck.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 745-7057. Visit heraldbuzzworthy.blogspot.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Have Gun, Will Travel CD Release Show with opening acts Hymn for Her and Snakehealers
When: 9 p.m. Oct. 22
Where: Aces Live, 4343 Palma Sola Blvd., Bradenton
Tickets: $7 (advance); $10 (door)
Information: (941) 795-3886 or 4aceslounge.com