Review: Sundy Best – ‘Salvation City’

Prestonsburg natives and Lexington residents Nick Jamerson and Chris Bentley, aka Sundy Best, already made a big splash this year with their March release, Bring Up the Sun. But, as if they want to make sure we don’t forget them at year’s end, they are dropping a second 2014 album Tuesday, Dec. 2.

Cover art for Sundy Best's Salvation City.And we mean album. It’s not a live compilation, a b-side collection (like there are b-sides these days), EP or tribute disc.

Salvation City is a full-fledged album of mostly new material that expands the duo’s sound while keeping its personality and spirit in tact.

It is not an album that finds them making a big play for country radio, as there aren’t nearly enough songs about trucks, bonfires, tanned girls in cut-off jeans, beaches, small towns, heavy drinking or country braggadocio for that.

While the material is more varied, it is fundamentally sincere, coming from the same place songs like I Wanna Go Home and Mountain Parkway came from.

The primary change here is a group that has previously recorded mostly acoustic, stripped down music is now adding more elements, filling out its sound. Under the direction of producer R.S. Field, the changes suit the band well.

One holdover from Best’s earlier material is the ballad Distance, which reflects some of the changes Salvation City represents with a wash of electric guitar and drums. It’s a different take on the song about separation, though the original, more spare acoustic version suits the lyrics better. But this recording shows the guys’ tunes can hold up to interpretation.

The production works for songs like Four Door, sprinkles of pedal steel and fiddle seeming like the world swirling around the couple alone in the title ride.

Then there’s I Want You to Know (World Famous Love Song), sounding like a Latin-infused piece of 1970s-era country and western. It may be the one we are most curious to see in Sundy Best’s traditional duo alignment. Fishin’ is a deceptively fun track that starts out with low-slung banjo grit and slowly gears up to a guitar-driven bounce — and am I hearing that lyric right, “Hillbilly dopamine”?

Really, for less than a year between releases, the thing Salvation City reflects most is a striking maturity. Lyrically, Best’s perspective is broader and musically, the guys are far more adventurous, lo, experimental. There aren’t any songs that could be categorized as trying too hard, and as much as we love their Kentucky pride, the home state is becoming less of a theme for the guys.

But they do love home, and the album does have hints they miss it.

Get Back to You has its roots in the past year with lyrics about wanting to get away from crowds of strangers and back to loved ones — OK, a specific loved one.

Far from a quickie release, Salvation City is the work of a band that had something else to say in 2014.

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