Ross Adams steps out of the shadows and concludes one heck of a journey.
It is often said that the approach to recording of relying on instinct and energy over just a few takes, and embracing the blemishes and mis-steps that come with it, belongs to a different time. How refreshing then to find an album made in 2021 recorded in just a few days that superbly captures the essence of the songs as though they’re being sung for the first time, with all the energy and drive that comes from a band who haven’t tired of playing them. Perhaps this was the whole idea, or perhaps Jason Isbell’s schedule meant that the 400 Unit were only available for hire for a short time. Either way, Ross Adams and the 400 Unit combine to wonderful effect on this full length LP, which marks Adams out as a likely standard-bearer for the future of Americana.
With a raspy vocal reminiscent of Deer Tick’s John McCauley, Adams sets about tackling the full range of topics that occupy the American songbook. Opening with rumination on the decline of American industry in ‘Ease Me into Dying’, Adams moves on to broken marriages and addiction on ‘Sally’s Amphetamines’ while ‘Tobacco Country’ offers wistful reflections on home. ‘4th Street Up’ and ‘Burning Flame’ are more stripped back affairs, which bring Adams’ ability to beautifully combine poetry and melody into sharp relief.
The album’s title track explores the changing South – and its resistance to change – in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, specifically the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Orangeburg Massacre. Yet despite the heavy subject matter, the song is bright and upbeat and wouldn’t sound out of place on The War on Drugs’ 2014 breakthrough masterpiece, ‘Lost in the Dream’ with its steady pounding drumbeat, tuneful piano melody and chugging guitars. As the album draws to a close, ’30 Days’ offers a shot of redemption, in this case recovery from alcoholism, while ‘Summertime In the City’ reflects on loneliness and isolation.
Following years spent cutting his teeth on tours up and down the East coast, ‘Escaping Southern Heat’ represents a significant step forward for Adams. His ability to command a backing band of the calibre of the 400 Unit speaks volumes, and concludes a heck of a journey from the days over a decade ago when he’d sneak backstage to help load their gear. This record shows his readiness to step out of the shadows, straight to the front of the stage.