Listen to the Thunder: Pure country (in a good way)

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Artist: The Maldives
Album: Listen to the Thunder
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Label: Mt Fuji Records
Score: 9.0/11

Don’t be mistaken. The Maldives aren’t southern rock, or country rock, or even alt-country.

No, The Maldives are straight-up country — honky-tonk even — and  they’re here to put all those modern country radio hacks to shame. While guys like Toby Keith and Big & Rich continue to record the same song over and over (and let ace session musicians do all the work without any of the credit), the Seattle troupe’s nine members operate on an equal plane, and thanks to that have produced a winner with its second album “Listen To the Thunder,” which they’ll be celebrating the release of with a three-night stand at the Tractor Tavern starting tonight.

To those that have seen The Maldives in action, it will come as no surprise that “Thunder” thrives by staying true to the good tenets of ol’ fashioned country music (dusty instrumentation, more twang than you can shake a stick at) and none of the bad (slick overproduction, the “love or leave it” mentality). No sir, this is slowed down, boozy, and lovelorn, the perfect soundtrack to the morning in between Saturday’s drinkin’ and Sunday’s churchin’. Merle Haggard should be proud.

The Maldives have plenty at their disposal with all their members (which includes a guy who looks like a prospector on banjo and likely the only Asian ever to play in a country act on percussion), and they use it all on “Thunder.” Fiddle, harmonica, accordion, horns, cowbell, shuffling drums, old-school keys, steel guitar, straight-ahead country-blues guitar, and frontman Jason Dodson’s down-home vocals all have their moments on the record, but when it comes down to it the songwriting and arrangements are the real stars of the show. Whether it’s the barely two-minute long “The New One,” or the 10-minute-plus “Walk Away,” everything is expertly crafted, with a myriad of emotions and numerous peaks and valleys strewn about.

“Walk Away” is easily the highlight of the CD, a slow burn in every sense of the term. It purposefully meanders before a fiery guitar jam sends the song into orbit just as it quickly as it brings it back down to Earth. But there is plenty more to appreciate on “Thunder,” like the 70s pop-country of “Tequila Sunday,” the foot-stompin’ groove of “Blood Relations” (which calls to mind early My Morning Jacket), or the fingerpicked goodness and hushed background vocals on the beautiful album closer, “Going Home.”

After giving the record a few spins, “Listen To the Thunder” seems to be a very appropriate choice for a title. The overall sound isn’t thunderous, but it isn’t far off from what you hear in between the thunderclaps during a summer Washington storm.

They may not be southern, but The Maldives damn sure are country.

Brent Stecker

About Brent Stecker

Brent is a journalist and small-time musician based in Wenatchee, Wash. His passion for music wasn’t discovered until his teenage years, however, when he first got his hands on a Rage Against the Machine CD. He spent the rest of his adolescence broadening his musical tastes, obsessively learning guitar, and harnessing his writing abilities in journalism classes.