The Packway Handle Band totally won me over with their live show, so I picked up their most recent album, What Are We Gonna Do Now? The group shows off some of the humor and energy that characterizes their live shows, but ultimately the album lacks something; the PHB is more suited to the live format.
The strongest track are those which feature the band's sense of humor. "I'm Glad You've Got My Priorities So Straight" is a vitriolic masterpiece delivered in a completely deadpan manner. "The Packway Handle Song," instead of revealing the secret of the band's name, takes glee in obscuring it further. It also gets some digs in at Tennessee folks (the band is based in Athens, Georgia, home of UGA). These songs are both written by fiddler Andrew Heaton, who also pens the title track, which closes the album and serves as kind of a roster for the band. By this time, the schtick wore a little thin, and I was left wondering, "another novelty song?"
The band shares songwriting duties, and the other band members tend to play things a little more straight. Mandolin player Michael Paynter contributes many of the tracks. Opener "Walking Disaster" is almost emo in its self-deprecation, but some of the imagery couldn't help but make me chuckle: "I'm what the rubber-neckers are gawking at." Classic. Paynter's ballad "Tired" isn't as strong, dialing back the album's energy three-fourths of the way through. The third songwriter is guitarist Josh Erwin, who contributes unremarkable instrumental "Horse vs. Technology" and the deliciously dark "Lord Baltimore," a kind of bluegrass heir to Nick Cave's creepy "Red Right Hand." It's one of the album's best moments and shows a nice contrast to some of the group's lighter moments.
All in all, What Are We Gonna Do Now? is a decent album, with some standout tracks (Priorities, "Walking Disaster," "Lord Baltimore") alongside some more forgettable ones. Definitely check those tracks out, and be sure to catch the Packway Handle Band if they come to your town. The live show is killer.
Packway Handle Band official site