ALBUM REVIEW: Muscadine Bloodline Mix Modernity with Classic Country on ‘Dispatch to 16th Ave.’
Country duo Muscadine Bloodline's latest record Dispatch to 16th Ave. opens with the title track, a song about coming up short in country radio, refusing to compromise or quit. That’s been the ethos of members Gary Stanton and Charlie Muncaster over the course of their first two full-length albums. Their success has been dependent on building a loyal fanbase and touring aggressively, both prior to the pandemic began and since as it has safely allowed.
The transitions on this record are special. There’s never a gap in music, which gives the entire nine-track collection a live feel. It continues rolling on into “My Side of Town,” a plea for boundaries in a small community after a split.
That moves into “Dead on Arrival,” which works as a companion piece to “My Side of Town” if heard in the same narrative timeline. “Dead on Arrival” is the first driving track here, and it’s the first of four songs written by duo and fellow Alabama native Adam Hood (three of those track were also co-written by Brent Cobb). It has the makings of a crowd favorite — a fighting anthem with a refrain fit for a bar crowd.
“Should’ve slipped off in that water at that Sunday tent revival / But instead I’m comin’ gunnin’ / I’m runnin’ cold blooded better watch your back”
The transitions continue to work beautifully on the record through the next track, “Hung Up on You.” That is a little more forced as the record moves into “Southern,” as the song drastically slows the pace of the album. But lyrically, “Southern” is singalong bait. It taps into the feeling of awkwardly slow-dancing with a first date or raising your lighter high in the air. At its core, the track serves as a collection of memories and moments that make being Southern feel unique, and an ode to icons that Southerners hold dear.
“We love Burt Reynolds in ‘Cannonball Run’ / John Wayne ridin’ into the sun / Richard Petty in pole position / The dirty version of ‘Family Tradition”
“The Toll” has the most traditional country sound here, a song complemented by twangy guitars, fiddle and pedal steel. When it fades, the record takes its first brief pause before the spoken first notes of the first single, “Dyin’ for a Livin.” Another boot-stomper, the track has the same anthemic, hell-raising feel of “Dead on Arrival.”
“Can’t get enough of this pickin’ grinnin’ dyin’ for a livin’ / Probably gonna kill me but it’d kill me if I didn’t / It’s a fix to my addiction/It’s a sin to my religion / It is what is and isn’t what it isn’t / I’m a honky-tonkin’ dead man walkin’ never quittin’ / Just a pickin’ grinnin’ dyin’ for a livin’”
It’s a real throw back to lyrically fast-paced 90s boogie tracks. It would have felt completely natural sandwiched on country radio between Joe Diffie and John Michael Montgomery in 1995.
It’s followed by another advance single, “No, Pedal Steel,” a song appropriately filled with pedal steel, which tells the listener about how lonely that instrument's recognizable sound makes the narrator feel. The track has pop-crossover potential with an audience that elevated another country duo, Dan + Shay.
Hood and Cobb return for the album closer, “Down in Alabama,” and it’s another one filled with visions of regional pride like “Southern.”
“They day home is where the heart is / And Lord I still believe / If it’s good enough for Hank Williams / Then it’s good enough for me.”
The sophomore release from the Mobile, Ala. duo clocks in at nine tracks and just a smidge over a half hour. It’s lean, and every single track counts. Stanton and Muncaster manage to graze every corner of what makes country music in 2022 while creating tracks that fit seamlessly beside the music that they were raised on.
Dispatch to 16th Ave. simultaneously supplies songs about heartbreak and tunes that can fuel a party. Each works in a world that Muscadine Bloodline has spent a lot of time in — one that relies on regularly releasing singles instead of entire collections. But as one collection, it’s an homage to an earlier era and a bridge from country’s past to its present, providing neo-traditional country at its best.
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