Nashville-based five-piece Boy Named Banjo have been performing together in some iteration since its members were in high school, winning over audiences with their blend of country, bluegrass, alt-rock and folk influences. They released their debut major label EP, ‘Circles’, in 2021 and have since worked alongside artists including Kip Moore and Chase Rice, as well as playing at CMA Fest in 2022. Now they’re back with their latest release, ‘Dusk’.
The nine-track project opens with ‘Something ‘Bout A Sunset’, which mixes heavy guitars with soft vocals over a pulsing beat and bags of vivid imagery, before picking up into a big soaring chorus. There’s a yearning in the lyrics as the band sing about ‘mak[ing] it last forever’ and a desire to head out west alongside a sense of fight (‘going down but it ain’t done yet’), as well as a killer guitar riff on the bridge that really elevates. it’s the type of song that’s going to have great energy as a live track and a great way to kick things off.
One thing that stood out to me on the record is the sheer range of sounds and musical styles the band use in their work. ‘Heart Attack’ is a stompy, twangy number about falling in love across a bar with some clever wordplay and plenty of punch – as well as a fantastic banjo solo from Barton Davies – whilst ‘Feel For You – Dusk’ has more of a folk influence initially that balances the smooth vocals and smart lyrical callbacks before picking up into a Zach-Bryan-goes-electric guitar riff. Elsewhere, ‘Whiskey Dreams’ has a grungy vibe and a raw, regret-tinged lyric of dancing away one’s troubles, and the midtempo ‘Young Forever’ leans heavy on the harmonica with its wistful images of ‘painted stars and mason jars’ that shows off the richness and quality of the band’s musicianship.
For me one of the highlights is ‘Mama, I’m Misbehaving’. It opens with a rattling, atmospheric intro that builds up from a sparse melody into layers upon layers of sound, and there’s an introspective self-awareness in the lyrics that stands out from the rest of the project, with a narrator who sings about knowing full well what they’re doing isn’t working but not being able (or not wanting to) stop. I also really liked the spoken word section midway and there’s something about the structure that puts me in mind of classic 90s rap and hip-hop songs. It’s something of a departure from the other songs here and something I’d definitely be interested to see them explore further in the future.
The record closes with three tracks that in my view really tie the whole thing together. The driving beat and rock-influenced chorus of ‘Goodbyes Are Sad’ has a nostalgic feel, with its lyrics of leaving one’s home town after high school or escaping a breakup, before the shift into the upbeat, bright melody of ‘Lonely In This Town’ with its lyrical twist and details of the ‘good luck feather you tied to my rearview’ and stars ‘like a million little diamonds on the river’. You feel like you’re really immersed in this small town and the catchy, anthemic chorus will stick in your head so much that you almost don’t notice the introspective lyrics until you’re fully singing along to them.
Things come full circle with the last track, ‘Opposite Directions’, which brings the band back to the acoustic, folky approach they showed glimmers of elsewhere. There’s a warm, mellow feel about the song which is balanced out by its lyrical theme of letting go (‘she took the mountains, I took the prairies’) and I like that it echoes back to ‘Something ‘Bout A Sunset’ with its lyrics about heading west. There’s a real maturity to it that shows a tremendous amount of depth and it definitely finishes the whole thing on a high.
Overall Boy Named Banjo have delivered a strong body of work that’s sure to sound great live and is packed with singalong choruses that worm their way into your ears instantly, as well as showing off their incredible musicianship, vast array of musical influences and intelligent, knowing songwriting. It’s a real melting pot with something to appeal to everyone and should see them winning over plenty of new fans. If I had one criticism, it perhaps needs a few softer moments, but this is a great introduction to their sound and I’m excited to see where they go from here.
Track list: 1. Something ‘Bout A Sunset 2. Heart Attack 3. Feel For You – Dusk 4. Young Forever 5. Whiskey Dreams 6. Mama, I’m Misbehavin’ 7. Goodbyes Are Sad 8. Lonely In This Town 9. Opposite Directions Record label: Mercury Nashville/UMG Records Release date: 29th September 2023