Praise for the Burnells...
"[The Burnells] just made a very good album with each other and American pop music’s collective consciousness... the band fully collaborates with American popular music and its antecedents... working in the vocabulary of heritage and lore... the gospel according to dirt roads and old railways... "Carrying music with them” is what the Burnells were doing when they walked into a studio space to record Room Enough... This is collaboration as metaphor..." — from David Pelfrey's review of Room Enough, May 2020
"This is an impressive collection of talented musicians who put an original, raw, and contemporary twist on traditional musical styles... Deep truth captured in lyrical music is a high art form not easy to pull off... Spread across the Americana spectrum, this cohesive set of roots music seeks to lift you into a better conscious understanding of a chaotic world." — from Bill Ledbetter's review of Room Enough, May 2020
News about the Burnells
Alabama NewsCenter heralds release of Turn to Now
The popular news site noted the Burnells' upcoming release in its "Alabama Music Makers" feature.
News site features story on the Burnells in "Alabama Music Spotlight"
Reporter Will Blakely of 1819 News highlighted the Burnells' history as a band and touted the upcoming new album "Turn to Now." The story covers the band's history, recording the album at Muscle Shoals' Wishbone Studios, working with producer Billy Lawson, and getting musical contributions from Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham, guitar master Travis Wammack, and acclaimed horn player Brad Guin. Read it here.
Reviews of "Turn to Now" soon....
Longtime Birmingham observer/commenter/critic David Pelfrey has always been known for his singular approach to whatever topic is at hand. Pelfrey takes particular elements of art and culture — books, films, music, architecture, anything that captures his attention — and, through a potent combination of erudition, exposition and ample doses of sly (and dry) wit, pins them to their respective contexts in the creative universe. Here's what he had to say about The Burnells and "Room Enough."
On "Room Enough," The Burnells "fully collaborate with American popular music and its antecedents"
by david pelfrey (posted may 17, 2020)
The late film noir legend and real-guy Robert Mitchum used to tell a story about receiving a surprise call from director Howard Hawks. The director wanted Mitchum to co-star in a western with John Wayne.
“Sure,” Mitchum replied. “Send me the script.”
“Well, Bob, there’s no story,” Hawks said. “We’re just going to make a real good picture with you and Duke.”
It might be intriguing to recall that Hollywood yarn when you first listen to Room Enough.
Way back when I shared office space with [Burnells singer/guitarist/songwriter] Mark as a writer at the Birmingham city paper Black & White, he and I would find ways not to meet deadlines by having conversations that are supposed to take place while browsing record bins. One afternoon I posited that David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” always seemed instantly adaptable to a country & western treatment. Mark took a long pause, gazing at nothing in particular, and finally replied, “That’s right.”
It was not like he agreed with my mere opinion. He seemed to be verifying an objective, music-related fact of the universe that would be true even if I had never been born. That’s some insight into Mark’s relationship with music, its history, its palpable texture, and how folks who truly care about those things always carry those things with them.
“Carrying music with them” is what the Burnells were doing when they walked into a studio space to record Room Enough. I think that’s why, if we say that each member of the Burnells is collaborating with the others (and there are plenty of others in this outfit, thus the album is aptly titled), we can also say the band fully collaborates with American popular music and its antecedents. They ask listeners, almost in the same breath, to get on board a train (or hop in a limo) with Woody Guthrie, X, The Band, The Clash, and a few ol’ boys from the foothills of Texas and the deeper gorges of Appalachia. This is collaboration as metaphor, which happens when a band adopts an instantly recognizable vocabulary and begins each iteration with “Stop us if you think you’ve heard this one before.”
Put another way, in the same sense that the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See?” gently recalls The Velvet Underground’s “O Sweet Nuthin,” (that woozy version off of Loaded), the first two tracks on Room Enough make one wonder what would have happened if Dickey Betts and the Velvets ever hooked up to swap a lick or three. In that context, it’s easy to imagine the band going deep and expansive for the live presentation of many tracks on this album. I hope they do. You know, the way VU or Bob Dylan or the Allman Brothers used to say “Stop us if you think you’ve heard this one before.”
Working in the vocabulary of heritage and lore fully suits songs that reimagine elements of the Old Testament, The Book of Revelation, Baptist hymnals, and that fundamental text of American music: the gospel according to dirt roads and old railways. This leads at times to speaking in tongues; the Burnells offer a warped apocalypse of harlots who might shimmy through The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street or T. Rex’s Warrior. Speaking of the Bible, I also like the slight skronk that comes through in “Back to Jericho,” and not just because it might wink at Delaney and Bonnie.
But let’s not page through a thesaurus. It’s all on the album. Maybe the “who” and the “when” that Room Enough recalls are secondary to the act of recollection itself. Which takes us back to Kris Kristofferson, circa long ago. During his talking intro for “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33,” he opens by saying that he began writing about one person and the song would up being about two other people (Dennis Hopper and Johnny Cash, to be specific). Then he spends a full 30 seconds giving a nod to all the other friends that song is probably about as well. If you get why Kristofferson thinks it’s important to note this in the very recording itself, then you have some insight into the spirit of the Burnell’s latest music.
Those are all impressions, of course. This album started out being one thing and then — well, there’s no story. They just made a very good album with each other and American pop music’s collective consciousness. There’s room enough for all that.
First review calls Room Enough "rootsy, contemporary, timely..."
On May 12, 2020, Birmingham musician/recording engineer/comms guru Bill Ledbetter posted his review of "Room Enough." Here's Ledbetter's take:
Room Enough is 12 tracks spread across the Americana spectrum from rock, rockabilly, blues, folk, country, and traditional tunes. Anchored by a fine collection of original songs accompanied by a choice Dylan cover, the traditional “Darlin Cory,” and a hypnotic original dirge set to W.B. Yeats poetry, the Burnell’s new album covers a lot of musical territory.
Born in 1997 as the Happy Burnells, out of the budding creative partnership between songwriters Mark Kelly and Gary Hyche, the Burnells is an impressive collective of talented musicians with a variety of skills and dynamics putting an original yet raw and contemporary twist on traditional music styles. This gathering of musical souls includes regulars on the Birmingham music scene from numerous recording and performing bands from the past 25 years. A unique talent pool grounded by the band’s primary songwriting team of Kelly on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, and Hyche on lead and slide guitar, also features Kat Beckham on vocals, Mike Fields on lap steel and rhythm guitar, Stuart Oates on vocals, button accordion, and banjo, Jason Ruha on drums, and Stuart McNair guesting on piano and button accordion. Pal of the band and maestro, Jubal John was recruited to produce and play bass on the project and wound up being just what the Doctor ordered, adding musical color with stints on vocals, cello, guitar, and organ along with his rock-solid bass playing.
“Back to Jericho,” a bouncing bluesy tune that features Beckham and Kelly’s dueling vocals is a fine acoustic groove along with some tasty harmonica from Kelly. In keeping with the end of the world theme, “Back to Jericho” is a bleak contemporary image of the American experience where “Mamas are Thirstin’ Babies Goin’ Hungry” and “Painted Faces, Enforced Jubilation” are “All Just Digitized Manipulation.” All of this darkness mixed in with the energetic melody and end-of-each verse refrain of “Get on the Train, Give the Man Your Name” are all the good ingredients of a well-crafted blues folk song designed to raise awareness or call out injustice. This type of music is designed to have a powerful effect on the listener, and The Burnells succeed on this tune.
“Second Coming,” is a deeply moving and hauntingly beautiful dirge laid down as the backdrop for Oates‘ vocal rendition of the famous W.B. Yeats poem, a cautious tale of pending doom from Yeats first published in 1920 when Europe was struggling to survive mass destruction and a pandemic of historical proportions, “Second Coming” also describes a bleak world on the verge of doom. Oates’ vocal delivery and banjo turn this classic poem into an anthem of sorts, a cautionary tale you are forced to accept when delivered with such grace, especially when you add the gorgeous soundscape using a tonal bass drum, cello, dulcimer, and bass expertly delivered by Jubal and Ruha.
The rocker “Full Gospel” cries for redemption, humility, and a shining light to bring the distressed singer to a better place from a roller coaster ride where, “Every time I think that I might Have it made, Something comes along to put me in the shade.”
The Burnells remind us that among the pending ruins there is a quirky, maybe even eccentric woman inspiring the author to help him in troubled and confusing times with the rockabilly-groove tribute, “I Don’t Mind” that sounds like it could be a Sun recording from the 50s, complete with some Scotty-Moore style rhythm picking from Dalzell and bottle-neck slide from Hyche, all wrapped in generous slap-back delay.
Producer Jubal handles the lead vocals on the Fields penned tune, “Some Days the Dragon Wins,” a jangly pop song about facing your demons, a place where “You’re gonna have to find a whole new set of friends/‘Cause some days the dragon wins.”
Recorded by Tym Cornell at Honey Bee Studios and mastered by Lynn Bridges, Room Enough also includes guest artist Stuart McNair on piano and organ. McNair’s talents are showcased on the Dylan cover with some rocking piano.
Other standout tracks include the traditional “Darlin Cory,” Bob Dylan’s, “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar," and the country original, “Cross Country Limousine.”
With a set of well-crafted original songs and unique covers, The Burnells take a cynical and often bleak look at the world. Along the way, this cohesive set of roots music seeks to lift you into a better conscious understanding of a chaotic world on the verge of doom. In traditional terms in our self-proclaimed civilized world, cynics are abundant and a valuable tool to raise social awareness, especially in the creative community where folks need truth to create something meaningful, a community that questions everything to ensure their work if critical, negative, or otherwise disparaging commentary on society, is anchored in deep and often brutal truth, which is increasingly hard to find in the 21st Century’s alternative universe where so many humans now reside. Deep truth captured in lyrical music is a high art form not easy to pull off. When done well, it can serve to not only solidify a movement or philosophy but entertain and deeply move the listener and cement life-long ideals. The Burnell’s timely release of this album scores as a contemporary call to action for anyone paying attention to our world in ruins.