Over the years, country music has proven to be a complementary peanut butter to the chocolate provided by other genres. Rockabilly, country rock, Americana, alt.-country, cowpunk, whatever it was the Grateful Dead did with it; it don't mean a thang if it ain't got that twang. Nashville-based Banditos has a firm grasp on its country roots, given the band's collective Alabama childhoods, but they've got deep and equal love for a variety of other potent musical styles as well and all comes to a frantic head on the sextet's sophomore album, "Visionland."
The album kicks off with "Fine Fine Day," which is introduced by a hallucinogenically disorienting sound bite before lighting the fuse on a pulsing garage rock blast that features vocalist/guitarist Corey Parsons sounding like Lou Reed if he'd been born in the south and then moved next door to Iggy Pop as a hormonal teenager. Banditos' schizophonic nature is revealed immediately with "Strange Heart;" the band's slinky soul groove-to psych freak out is accentuated by vocalist Mary Beth Richardson's rafter-rattling affinity to big rock/soul voices like Genya Ravan and Merry Clayton. And on the title track, Parsons and Richardson combine talents on a gentle psych/pop/rock swirl that doubles as a gritty interpretation of the sound of '60s San Francisco, specifically the acid folk lilt of It's a Beautiful Day, with David LaFlamme's violin reimagined as Steve Pierce's reverbed banjo.
Banditos offers a variety of touchstones on "Visionland," from Richardson's channeling of Chrissie Hynde and Etta James on the smoldering "Healin' Slow," to the Brian Wilson-at-Muscle Shoals bounce of "Lonely Boy," to the Skynyrd-meets-Southern Culture on the Skids country lope of "Thick N' Thin," to the '60s AM pop hush of "When It Rains." The things that unify Banditos' crazy quilt of sonic approaches are the strength Parsons and Richardson as co-lead vocalists and their chemistry as support for each other, and the band's proficiency in the absorption, reflection and unique reinvention of a dizzying array of musical eras.