Border Band stays stubborn – (F5 AltMusic)
Originally published October 13, 2005
Melvin Litton, now comfortably into his 50s, has been making music for over half his life. A longtime solo performer and songwriter it's only been in recent years that he's allowed other musicians into the creative process.
But when those musicians are the other fellas in Border Band — Roger Holden (guitar), Dave Melody (drums) and Rob Popp (bass) — you don't have much choice but to recognize their talent and let them shine beside you, which Litton has done on the group's latest long-player, the double disc set Hard West.
Litton and Holden first met up roughly a decade ago to break ground on the band.
"Roger was this guy I'd heard playing around town from time to time and I thought, 'This guy ought to be playing with me; he'd make me sound a hell of a lot better,'" the vocalist/guitarist said.
Holden later expressed an appreciation for Litton's work and the two began performing together shortly thereafter, playing bi-monthly at a pizza joint where they attracted the attention of heavy metal drummer Melody.
"I was folky," Litton said, "and he had to calm down his sticks considerably but he's been with me a long time."
A round of revolving bassists eventually led the trio to Popp (pronounced Pope), who traded in his six string to hold down the low end. He made the transition, according to Litton, "without any wobbles."
From the beginning the group has favored Litton's original material to covers, although Holden has contributed songs over the years and, Litton said, more recent material has come together from four-way collaborations. "Particularly musically," he noted. "I tend to lay down the lyrics and such but they're really good players, far better than me, so it's better to give them the reigns and let them carry the wagon. As I step back and let them do that, everything sounds better. They keep teaching me."
While the group's current outing may be ambitious (Litton recalled "catching hell" from at least one critic for an earlier effort that "went a bit too long") he added that he's always one to give the audience a performance worthy of its money, whether on the stage or from the studio — the group plays four-hour shows, hitting hard with an hour-and-a-half-long first set and Hard West clocks in at about the same time as your average Clint Eastwood flick.
The album demonstrates Litton's prolific nature. He has, he said, written songs since his late teens, a talent that sprouted from his interest in literature (he is the author of the novels I, Joaquin and Geminga).
"I found that I could write a song anytime, anywhere — in the middle of the work day or waking up Sunday morning hung over and barely able to put a thought together, although even then a song could come," he said. "Fiction came back and snuck into my blood when I was about 36 or 37. I was laid off one winter and I wrote to see if I could complete the idea. And I did and I've been churning out books that don't sell ever since," he joked.
Litton, who makes his living as a carpenter said that despite never quite making a living off of his main passion, he's not ready to let go of the reigns. Although he paused from live performance some years back while he raised his family at this point, he said, there's really nothing to preventing him from giving his all to his art.
"I'm stubborn," he said, "that's all I am." But, he added, "You've got build your life and your art one brick at a time. There's very few people who leap the mighty river in one bound."
The Music Mag (May 24, 2002): “Rawhide Rockers,” Lawrence’s Border Band blends blues rock and folk with dashes of country and nods to bluegrass and rockabilly on its latest release, “Rootless Seed.” An unabashedly old-school effort, “Seed” has a sparse sound that matches the quartet’s dusty Old West image.... “Whiteline Moonshine” sounds like a great lost Johnny Cash song, and the Border’s laid back groove makes for a promising, spitfire start....
Indie-Music.com, review by Les Reynolds, January 13, 2002: These four guys are not from the border as we know it (Texas and Mexico), but their music is every bit as dusty and craggy as the rocks and dirt that line the Rio Grande and points westward.... Not that dust and crust are bad things. Think about the steely-eyed glare of Clint Eastwood or the cool deadpan glint of James Coburn. That kind of dust. But the tunes can also be varied at times...and sometimes the tunes vary within themselves (listen to “Bootleggin’ Lady,” which goes from blues to rock). But, the Big Question: Does it sound good? You betcha!! On the opening track, “Whiteline Moonshine,” Mel sounds like Dire Strait’s Mark Knopfler gone country, and on “Wildflower” the guitar sounds like the Allman Brothers meets the Marshall Tucker Band. One theme throughout seems to be what could be called worldly spiritualism – spiritual references immediately framed by some rather blatant references to things not so spiritual.... In the up-tempo opener alone, some examples; “...why do the heathen rage? ...in like a lamb and out like a lion... ain’t no quicker path to paradise. I’m leavin’ the low road, takin’ the high road tonight...” Hard to pin down, but one thing’s for sure – this band has definitely taken the musical high road.
Evert Wilbrink, president of CoraZong Records (formerly of Island Records and Tomato Records): “I’ve been playing the album from time to time, and, I think there’s a lot of genius stuff I really dig....”
Digital Global Media, Inc. (June 11, 2002): Rootless Seed lulls you into a familiar place and then stabs you gently in the heart when you get there. Musicianship is subtly outstanding....
Indie-Music.com (Jan.3, 2004)
Artist: The Border Band CD: Magdalene
Style: "border music" "rawhide rock"
By Les Reynolds
The Border Band is a master at identifying and transferring to you a sense of history, place and myth. Their latest CD "Magdalene" is a testimony to their skill.
Think of stories of men who lived, rode, played and loved the only way they knew how -- hard and fast. Think of renegade horsemen, squinting into the harsh sun, flying ahead of a dust cloud. The thirst-quenching brew in a smoky, creaky saloon. Shadowy rumors of men who wreaked havoc everywhere they went -- yet were never really seen and seldom heard.
Covering a time span from the Conquistadores to Wounded Knee, the Lawrence, Kansas group serves up 14 tunes of what they like to call "rawhide rock." But it's only rock because of the electricity and the energy put forth. These are stories told by the best storytellers. These are tunes that sound as if they were composed in the tiny Texas or California towns on the Mexican line. The fingerstyle acoustic guitar combined with the percussion instruments give it that old Western feel. The electric guitar brings it into the modern age for added richness. If electric guitar had been around back then, this is what it would sound like.
The band is led by vocalist and acoustic guitar player Melvin Litton. His plaintive voice with a hint of a Western twang and his brief spots of yodeling authenticate the spirit of the music. Roger Holden handles the lead on both guitars while the rhythm section of drummer Dave Melody and bassist Andy Gribble hold down the fort. Doc Nelson guests with keyboards, bass and guitar fills.
The lyrics are rife with imagery of outlaws and other elements of the old (and even Older) West. The opener, "Joaquin" is about a California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta who had terrorized the populace before meeting his doom at the hands of the California Rangers in the 1850s. Rumors had (and still do, according to some) swirled around his persona and Mel brings Joaquin to life in this tune:
I am Joaquin Murrieta the bandit caballero
My life is a legend, I lived long ago
I rode from Sonora through old California
I raided her valleys for horses and gold
Then the Ranger Gringos, los diablos, rode from Sacramento
they said Hey! Bring us the head of Joaquin when he's dead....
-- "Coronado" takes you back even further -- centuries, in fact -- to the days of the Spanish explorers:
With 30 horsemen at his side rides the Spaniard Coronado
To search the land they call Quivira for the Seven Cities of Cibalo...
-- From "Yellow Rose Hotel" we get the softer side of living on the edge:
I follow my memory on a high sirocco journey
To a long ago evening at the Yellow Rose Hotel
Where she wore a dress colored yellow
...and she lay in the shadows awaitin'
Like a dream that fades at dawn
Then we made love as the neon flower glowed...
Neon? Well, maybe there's a bit more modern-times in these here words than it first appears. Perhaps the band's own words, printed at the bottom of the CD's liner notes, sum it up best: "Music from the roots where stones and old bones speak while the nightwinds moan and Orion shines eternal like our dreams..."
THE BORDER BAND – radio play
* Blues Deluxe(the Nation’s blues show hosted by Dave Johnson) on over ninety-five FM stations throughout US / Canada and the internet at www.freeworldradio.com Playlist: November 20 – 26 Border Band cover of “Meet Me in the Morning” by Bob Dylan
* Sirius Satellite Radio, The Bob Dylan Hour (program #79) host Michael Tearson, rock-sirius disorder www.sirius.com
*Honky Tonk Blues on 101FM Brisbane, Australia hosted by Henry Prokop
“Hard West” choice of the month for Freeform Americana Roots Report –
*Charted #42 on Roots Music Report (Roots Blues) 11/8/05 www.rootsmusicreport.com
*Americana Roots Music hosted by Mike Penard on ISA Radio in Lhuis, France
“Hope you will stay on this road and will not listen to the sirens of easiness. Your music is true, full of a good spirit. It is a real pleasure for the listeners...the DJ to hold such an album. You can like it or not, but you never have the feeling you hold a record that has already been recorded a hundred times. It is the work of artists, in the literal meaning of the word... To me, you reach perfection with Hombre....” – Mike the Frenchy
*Blues Buffet on KRVK 107.9FM in Casper, WY – hosted by Travis “T-Roy” Royce
“Bare Hands is a great song!”
* Big Al’s Rhythm Roundup PBS 108.7FM Melbourne, Australia – Big Al Watts
“Hell mate The old Kansas Redlegs have not got a patch on you guys love your work...”
*The Fresh 895FM Bendigo, Australia hosted by Trevor Hyland
“Great sound – blew me away...featuring The Border Band as my Cyber Buddies...”
*Country-Eastern Outlaws For Peace hosted by Eddie Russell, based in Colombus, TX and broadcast on JRRI International Shortwave out of Waterford, Ireland http://listen.to/jrri/
“Thanks for sending your most excellant ‘Hard West’ double-cd, a very enjoyable ride”
*Friday Night Blues hosted by Norma Martinez on KTEP 88.5FM NPR El Paso, TX
*House Party with Harold Tremblay KAFI 90.3 & 106.7FM Minneapolis/ST.Paul, MN
*Old Time & New Country Jean Castro 92.8FM Marmountier, France
*Cruisin’ with Don Chisholm on MFR 97.4FM Moray Firth Radio – Scotland
*La Hora del Blues with Vincente “Harmonica” Zumel Radio PICA Barcelona, Spain
*The Upper Room with Joe Kelly WVOF 88.5FM Fairfield, CT
*Dark Side of the Highway with Johnny Timewarp WFCS 107.7FM
*Radio Vagabond, Danny Birch: “Disc has a real Southern Roadhouse Blues sound...”
Plus many other country-rock and blues shows throughout the US and Canada, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, UK, Australia, Norway, Slovinia....
WWW.INDIE-MUSIC.COM – "A two-disc, 26-song collection of low-down, mid-west between the ditches country rock..." – Dereck Blackman November 5, 2005
– Thanks to the originality of Gram Parsons and loose noodling of The Grateful Dead, country music is no longer limited to big hats, A-chords and pedal steel guitars. Now meet The Border Band’s Hard West, a two disc, 26-song collection of low-down, mid-west between the ditches country rock. All you need is the road trip long enough to tackle listening to it in one fell swoop.
While there are a few covers here, the lion’s share of originals are due to singer/guitarist Melvin Litton. Rearrangements of “In The Jailhouse Now” and “St. James Infirm’ry” are done sweet justice. Typically I would approach Dylan covers with a suspicious eye, especially those lifted from Blood on the Tracks, but a bluesy cover of “Meet Me in the Morning” is included for your listening pleasure, and have no fear, Zimmy is held to the highest standards.
There isn’t a lot of wavering in the elemental sound across the board, but this is merely chalked up to “doing what you do best” rather than doing what is expected from the label execs. The sound quality far exceeds most DIY releases but exudes the confidence of a band with the sole intention of playing whatever it damn well pleases.
There’s a prolific nature to Litton, similar to that of Ryan Adams. Whereas the latter’s moods may stray from album to album, allowing this randomness to affect the consistency from time to time, Litton seems content to remain constant with the sound, keeping his nose clean. I can only imagine there has to be another double disc of intended filler floating around somewhere. Maybe their next album could just be a box set?
The Border Band holds one truth to be self-evident: Country is the only genre to make it clear that two minutes in any relationship is the difference between a shot of whiskey and a beer to kill the pain. With titles like “If Wishes Was Horses,” “Fishin’ in the Wrong Hole” and “Taco n’ Wine,” it’s easy to see that being from Kansas has had a rather genuine impact on Litton.
Give me an old Roadhouse saloon with a silent, mysterious hunk named Dalton watching the door, chicken wire protecting the stage and these guys cranking the soundtrack to one hell of a drunken stupor, and that’s the America I know!
WWW.ROOTSTIME.BE – "The music has exceptional class..." – Freddy Celis (Dutch to English via Click2 Translate) October 23, 2005
– Where does all the good music come from? - I sometimes ask myself. Rootstime in particular knows where to find the increasingly popular genre, roots-Americana. Now I don't mean to imply by this that The Border Band's third release (already!) is a typical Americana disc. No, Melvin Litton and his band do more than just that....
"Hard West" is a primarily melodic album with infectious rhythms, varying from up-tempo songs through to a mesmerizing sound. That comparison somewhat goes out the window now though, with "Hombre" thundering out of my speakers. Here and there a Coast to Coast rhythm surfaces, in "Jam In Nam", and then they let loose again with the roots rock ballad "Quittin'You". The traditional home base is to be found in "Same Ol' Song". It may seem obvious that The Border Band draw on diverse influences, but the conspicuous link with the blues, "Red Rose Blues", I would call remarkable. Just the combination and change in the final cut, "Champagne In The Saddle", is in itself an invention of true professionals.... To soothe the heat of Lawrence, the Rockies and the Badlands, the guys have pooled their talents and ideas and come up with one of the better singer-songwriter albums of our time. The music has exceptional class. Again, not really an Americana disc, but certainly a gem....
WWW.KINDAMUZIK.NET – "Compares with the ground-breaking work of The Band..." –Maurice Dielemans (Dutch to English via Click2 Translate) October 9, 2005
– Hard West is a double album from The Border Band and for that reason takes a lot after the superlative album The Basement Tapes from Bob Dylan and The Band. Naturally this is not the only reason. The rudimentary music from this quartet is very reminiscent of original rock-'n-roll styles such as standard blues and country, and they bring together these clear influences in short, harmonious rock songs. Everything in these 26 songs compares with the ground-breaking work of The Band....
VILLAGE RECORDS www.villagerecords.org – "The hats on these guys is likely to be a bit dusty and have more than a couple of spots of blood and sweat..." – Bill Lavery October 19, 2005
– This new two disc set is what we call hard country. It has edge with both the music and the lyrics. It’s mostly originals with a few cool covers including Bob Dylan’s "Meet Me In The Morning." This Midwest band has managed to stay under the radar screen the past few years but that’s all about to end with this career making disc. The hats on these guys is likely to be a bit dusty and have more than a couple of spots of blood and sweat....
WWW.ILPOPOLODELBLUES.COM – "Undeniably an album that brings back the taste and pleasure of genuine country rock..." – Salvatore Esposito (Italian to English via Click2 Translate) Feburary 6, 2006
– Straight from Lawrence, Kansas, comes a nice surprise. It is Hard West, a two disc set from the underrated Border Band, a four-piece group led by Melvin Litton, a veteran guitarist and songwriter who offers genuine insights. Hard West contains virtually all original tracks with a few well-chosen covers (Dylan's "Meet Me In The Morning" and "In the Jailhouse Now" by Jimmie Rodgers are both first-rate), and reveals, contrary to what the disc cover and the record title might lead you to think, an assortment of seasoned Rock/Blues tracks ("Jailbreak" and "Honky Tonk Guitar" in particular) mixed with bursts of Cowpunk ("Taco n' Wine") and Country ("Champagne in the Saddle" and "Sundown"). There are also a few detours into Boogie Rock as in the irresistible "If Wishes Was Horses" (Gene Autry Blues) and "Saloon Fight", or full-on jam band style improvisations as in the really infectious "Keep it Comin'". There might be a few faults on the production side... but this is more than made up for by the guitar duels between Melvin Litton and Roger Holden, who are always ready to fight it out on every solo. Hard West will probably not go down in history as a classic album but it is undeniably an album that brings back the taste and pleasure of genuine country rock.
WWW.ROOTSTIME.BE – "It’s a Short Life is honest and, after a bit of acclimation, is repeatedly magnificent…" – Antoine Legat (Dutch to English, OneHour Translate), February 10, 2013
"It's a Short Life". They sure were right about that, those four gentlemen from The Border Band, but it made for an extremely long CD, bordering 75 minutes: not much more can fit on a CD. It's been a good while since they've put anything out after "Rootless Seed" (2001), "Magdalene" (2003), and the double CD "Hard West" (2005). We had a good time with "It's a Short Life", listening to it over and over again. It should be no surprise why: there is a plethora of variation in the material presented that exploits a recognizable sound to invoke a pronounced sense of unity. There is more however. They are drowning in experience. The quartet roamed around all that time, and even still today, as a pack of young wolves that don't bog themselves down with all the rules and red tape slapped on by managers and producers and merely sing as they were meant to sing. They don't set out to lure in an audience, but rather play what they enjoy playing, how they want to play it, all while being fully aware of what they can and cannot do.
If that isn't refreshing in a time where albums are polished perfection, where every break is played exactly by the book, I don't know what is. That spermicidal legislation is just the opposite of what Rock-n-Roll needs to be, i.e. healthy anarchy. That the outcome fails to communicate that so strongly sometimes doesn't change a thing. The bottom line is positive. In addition, the lyrics seem to tell their own story more than once, like in the opener "A Long, Long Way", a proud ode to the homeland on the right side of patriotism, given it crosses everyone's mind, yet is directed towards no one; and the Vietnam story "Bad Seed" plucked clearly from personal experience, which you can see as an antidote for Stan Ridgway's dubious "Camouflage".
As for the composition of the band, Melvin Litton, the engine that drives The Border Band, is more or less a stray cat that took off from Kansas and eventually ended up there again. He plays rhythm guitar, wrote almost all the songs, mostly by himself, and he sings the lead up an octave. Roger Holden just sticks with lead guitar, but he, of course, plays an important role in the band's history. Dave Melody plays the drums, but also sings in about five songs. The group has wrestled for years with a "bassist problem", so to speak. About eight of them withered up and burnt out before Daniel Weaverling came knocking at the door a few years ago. Although he was much younger than the others, he seemed to be our white blackbird. Since he also has a great singing voice, he does some vocals on five songs. In total, that should tally up to eighteen songs, but there is one song that the three leads sing, namely the traditional rendition of "Go Down Ol' Hanna" where the tempo picks up suddenly a third of the way through.
If they hit the gas pedal, then you get a rugged set of rockers like "Gingerbread Man" or the title track. But they can also branch into a world of melancholy, like in "Another Cold, Cold Beer", which was actually a tear jerker of a song, that cavorts harmoniously between sincere emotion and sentimentality (our Guido Belcanto also walks that line with so much finesse!). Even "Because of You" with Litton on the ... bell has that folky feeling, i.e. a song to play in the late hours of the community ball. We couldn't dream of any producer laying his hands on any of it to make it "better" so to speak! The realities of the working man, who has to slave his face off to get by, gets its own special voice in "Bottom of the Mine". "There Liz a Diamond" falls somewhere between Bob Dylan, The Band, and Bruce Springsteen in its own reserved kind-of way, influences that Litton surely can identify with.
And once everything comes together, then you get one kick ass song like "Down by the River". So no, you can't be mad at The Border Band. The older generation of music fans will already know this. For the younger chaps, just put that into a text message. "It's a Short Life" is "honest" and, after a bit of acclimation, is repeatedly "magnificent".
VILLAGE RECORDS www.villagerecords.org – “Alt-country classic…”Nov. 30, 2011 IT'S A SHORT LIFE: The Border Band
This group has the perfect name. Their music straddles all aspects of Americana and the forefathers of the genre. Albums like this are not meant for radio programmers and focus groups. It is meant for drivers of rust colored pick-up trucks that have old mangled chrome bumpers, and past their prime cars with big engines. You'll find these parked outside of end of the trail roadhouses, not Starbucks. For this all new recording they don't get above their raising and deliver another alt-country classic.
ROOTHOG RADIO www.roothotradio.com -- “Kinda like listening to a Johnny Cash the first time around…” Posted on November 2, 2011 by L.H. O'Connor
I was tickled to see pictures of the Border Band and realize they're not all nineteen and this is not their first record. Maybe it's because my bridge is out, I need to slaughter a bunch of chickens and it's a snowy, Sunday morning but I'm in the mood for some music from someone who's actually lived a little. Someone who might actually have something genuinely sad and lonesome to sing about, in that respect, It's A Short Lifeby The Border Band did not disappoint.
It's A Short Life's title track starts off sounding like a barfighting song but winds up as an almost Springsteenesque account of a man's life. The first time I listened to it, it really rubbed me the wrong way. Something tugged at me to listen again, though, a few days later and it was actually worth it.
So, be warned. This is not a driving in the truck cd. (Unless you've heard it a million times and know all the words by heart.) This is one to sit down and actually listen to. If you're in a hurry, put it aside til you have a
moment to really pay attention.
A Long, Long Way is a pro diversity anthem. Another Cold, Cold Beer is very appropriate for this season (and for anyone trying to dry up). My favorite line: The scarecrow still stands there though he's a longtime been dead.
Overall, I had mixed feelings about this album. There were parts I didn't like, but I have a sneaking suspicion it might grow on me. Kinda like listening to a Johnny Cash the first time around. Goes Good With: Jimmy Rodgers and CCR.
“ The album “Fresh Blood / Old Skin” confirms the exceptional class of Melvin Litton & The Border Band. Again, it is incontestable a roots rock / alt-country / Americana album and undoubtedly, an unique gem... “