Shovelin Stone lead vocalist Makenzie Willox believes there’s an acoustic and folk “revolution” going on right now – name checking the likes of Tyler Childers, Billy Strings and Sturgill Simpson as comrades leading the charge – and it’s a revolution he and his bandmate Zak Thrall wholeheartedly embrace. The Denver, Colorado based duo’s debut self-titled album showcases the shared passion for bluegrass that brought them together, but as Thrall put it in a recent interview, “[made] with a modern twist”.
‘Change My Mind’ opens the album and sets the pace with a rootsy melody accompanied by raw and husky vocals. “I put my soul on the page / And the son of a bitch bleed through,” Willox sings cleverly on this search for a rescue from rock ‘n’ roll (“Seems as though I’m wasting my time / Late nights and stage lights where I find myself again / Hoping that you’ll change my mind”). ‘Won’t Say Those Things’ drips with bluegrass, and the smokey vocals add a layer that makes the heartbreak feel authentic (“I let you go tried to forget your name / Time moves on but my love for you hasn’t changed”).
‘Austin’ has a cheerier musical tone than the previous tracks, and the song finds Willox singing about being the first in five generations to leave his family farm, his consequently moving to Austin, and the blame his mother went to heap onto the city in question in her upset. ‘Every Road’ has a folky start that builds to a nice intensity at the chorus (“All good things must come to an end / And I’ll be seeing you my friend”), while ‘Smile’ is another musically upbeat track but with lyrics of a broken heart and yearning for a former lover (“Ain’t it just like you to come and go / Leave me confused with a hole in my soul / Lord I know there’s nothing that we can do / But darlin’ oh darlin’ / How I sure miss you”).
“I only need you in the morning / ‘Cause I don’t like waking up alone / And is this love we’re really holding / Or did you just need a home,” are fantastic opening lines on ‘Breaking Even’, which is an album highlight. The sharp lyrics continue throughout the song with the likes of, “Your loves like whiskey / Of course I downed it / Stuck in this glass and I feel like I’m drowning,” and contrasts nicely with a chorus that reaches pop levels of catchiness. Continuing a theme from ‘Austin’, ‘Mamma Don’t Worry’ speaks more plainly of the fears of his mother and his guilt in not being able to alleviate them (“And I know that my mamma she worries about me / About my reckless ways and the songs that I sing / And my wild gypsy soul needs set free / Oh mamma don’t worry about me”). Elsewhere, ‘Same Old Song’ and ‘Now That You’re Gone’ fit into a similar vein from earlier about a man living to excess and searching for change and redemption.
On the penultimate album track – the gentle acoustic ‘Let Your Love Go’ – Willox sings, “And all I’m good for is writing songs / Trying to find out right from wrong,” and while Willox surely has other virtuous qualities, he is right to say that he’s good at writing songs, and it’s a talent will surely propel this band to loftier heights coming from such a solid foundation.