september 2009

The Coalmen
Funzalo Records

If you can imagine a band that can really rock, flat-out rock, no BS, in the style of early Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers while also keeping one foot in hard country, and writing original songs with the soul, detail and craft of Radney Foster's personal missives, you would have before you the Coalmen. Kids With Songs has it all, musically, lyrically, vocally and in its sturdy, no-frills arrangements so smartly designed for maximum atmospheric punch while keeping a discrete distance so as to make the vocals, the narratives, the most prominent and memorable feature of the mixes.

Despite the abovementioned musical touchstones, the Coalmen loose their inner Anglophile here and there: "Never Again" is indebted to Beggars Banquet-era, druggy, Stones-style country with Dave Coleman executing some nifty, serpentine Keef Richards-redolent guitar punctuations; the soothing, soulful languor of "Almost," enhanced by Coleman's loopy, marble-mouthed warbling, summons the spirit of our man Van Morrison, circa the backwoodsy Tupelo Honey (and, to be sure, an early, Van-indebted Bruce Springsteen, a la The Wild, The Innocent...). Lest the reader find this all smacking too much of "derivative" as opposed to "original," be advised, first, that the Coalmen build on these influences to create something of their own, as in "Ringing Still," a spooky evocation of the demons hiding within, incubating until they're summoned by personal history in what is a dramatic, incisive probe into subconscious time bombs ticking away, their deadly, inevitable detonation foreshadowed by the insistent, unadorned chanting of the title sentiment. This is by way of pointing out some serious intent in Coleman's songwriting and singing. He's a sly vocalist, capable of falling into that Morrison-like state to conjure a figure both world weary and simmering in heat, or using a dry, sturdy timbre to emphasize both his longings and his aspirational motives—witness the driving epistle, "Work to Keep," in which he vows to proceed with the necessary and requisite selflessness necessary to hold a relationship together, a short, to the point declaration he posits with unqualified urgency; witness the epic quest to reclaim a lost love, battling his own conflicted feelings over the lingering ache of her departure and his certainty of a more fruitful life together—"if I had you in my reach/there'd be roses growing at my feet" goes the triumphant, ascendant chorus. Many of Coleman's songs fall into this bittersweet abyss, a gulf between pleasure and pain he understands is there and unflinchingly does battle with. In the end, even when he can't bridge the gulf, you sense Coleman still believes he'll wind up in the better place. How he forges ahead and puzzles out his dilemma is where it gets interesting. —David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024