Excellent fourth album from up-and-coming, award-winning country-soul band from central Appalachia, 49 Winchester.
49 Winchester are from the small mountain town of Castlewood in southwest Virginia’s Russell County, taking their name from the childhood home address of main songwriter and singer Isaac Gibson, and not a rifle from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. ‘Fortune Favors the Bold’ is the band’s fourth album since forming in 2013 and their first release for New West Records. Their sound is described as Appalachian country soul, which is definitely an apt description if you promptly check at the door any expectations of what those genres typically sound like separately, or should sound like as beautifully distilled together as they are on ‘Fortune Favors the Bold.’
Gibson and childhood friend and neighbor Chase Chafin (bass) were brought up listening to the timeless regional greats, thanks to the nearby annual Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion festival, but create music that sounds nothing like them. As their press release says, “They’re not Ralph Stanley. Don’t want to be, either.” Rather than a preciously guarded time capsule of traditional Appalachian music, their songs are thoroughly unique and modern with diverse musical inspirations within and outside of Americana.
Gibson is an honest and often playful lyricist whose economy and effectiveness with words bring to mind George Jones, who is mentioned on their third album ‘III.’ He misses his partner while out on the road but also thoroughly enjoys that life. Gibson should know the challenges of road life, since the band plays roots festivals and gigs all over the country, with his dad pulling driving duty. He is also well acquainted with love not working out (‘Annabel,’ ‘Second Chance’). Jones himself would have liked ‘Damn Darlin’’ and the gospel-tinged ‘Man’s Best Friend’: “Well the best friend that a man can have is Jesus / And the worst one he can have is named Jim Beam / One of them just makes me mean as a striped snake / And the other one has washed my spirit clean.”
Like many of the songs here, ‘Man’s Best Friend’ features Duane Allman-like guitar from talented lead guitarist Bus Shelton. The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd influences support Gibson’s compelling Memphis-soul vocals, especially on songs like ‘Second Chance,’ ‘Neon,’ and ‘Damn Darlin’’, with its reference to heartbreak at the legendary Exit/In club in Nashville. They also simply rock out on ‘Last Call,’ which partly sounds like a hat tip to ZZ Top. For careful listeners, ‘Hillbilly Daydream’ includes helpful tips on how to make corn liquor.
Despite being the main songwriting force, Gibson doesn’t take his bandmates for granted. He brings his songs to the others and lets them shape the songs as they see fit. “From day one, it’s always been a band and it will always be about being a band,” he says. “This is everything, everything we love about music — we’re going for broke with this thing. And that gives us a unique perspective because it’s still the same guys. It’s still all of us from Castlewood traveling around, playing music and making this band a reality — this is a story of growth.”