By: Dennis Cook
When most people invoke Lynyrd Skynyrd it's usually a semi-derogatory allusion to misunderstood clichés surrounding the landmark Southern rock pioneers. Spend time inside the five Ronnie Van Zant led albums released between 1973-1977 (as well as 1976's barnstorming double live record, One From The Road) and you'll discover a group that understands the inner workings of blues, country and rock, and expresses their knowledge with lovingly tangled combinations – great American music picked up at grandpa's knee, along dirt roads and inside minimum wage jobs. Powder Mill reminds one a LOT of Skynyrd in their early scratching-to-make-a-name days, overflowing with ideas, unabashedly Southern and serving up something as satisfying as cornbread & honey butter.
Led by Jesse Charles Hammock II (Shady Deal), Powder Mill is Mike Cooley rough and Jason Isbell tender, musical kin to the Drive-By Truckers family while welcoming in vintage flavors closer to Black Oak Arkansas and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, particularly in Powder Mill's incorporation of mountain folk elements like weeping, whipping violin. There's tons of invigorating foot stomp and nifty lil' touches that show all the smart whittling that's gone into this album. For as rangy and rowdy as their debut, New Mountain, gets there remains a real mix of moods and approaches, the band showing as much facility with acoustic lightness as they do with nasty boogies – a bit like those Skynyrd boys.
In the end, this sort of Southern rock isn't likely to reinvent much, so it's down to the quality of the playing and material, both of which are stellar on New Mountain. Your fave cut might be bouncing love letter "Baby Yo Man," road sing-along "Overpass," gnarly, amp-shaking opener "New Mountain" or plain ol' nasty "Meth Lab Blues" (which gets extra points for being credited as a "Traditional"). Or maybe like me, you'll find yourself just hitting repeat so you can let the whole enjoyable shebang bounce around the room without worrying too much about hierarchies. However, do keep an ear out for whatever Powder Mill does next. One suspects they're only going to flourish as they keep at it.