Most people may have discovered The Applebutter Express through their song “Hey My Brotha,” which is featured in the Ron Howard film “The Good Lie” starring Reese Witherspoon. However, the band’s story began in 2004, when Kyle Biss met his future wife Shannon while working at a record store in Bradenton, Florida. Still a focused bass player, Kyle picked up a ukulele in 2010 and began to write songs, with the idea of singing with Shannon for fun on the couch. Pretty soon they became a duo doing open mic community, then got married and added Joe Trivette (fiddle) and Matt DeSear (bass) to the band.
Since then, The Applebutter Express has performed at such prestigious festivals as Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Hulaween, Suwannee Springfest, and many others. Now the 4-piece outfit, who call their music ‘Ukelele Funk’, have released “Handguns and Hammocks”, which I believe is their 3rd album.
The album gets 5 stars because the music absolutely calls for it. The tunes are dynamic and interesting and they’re even dynamic and interesting in different ways from song to song. The lyrics are thought provoking, fun and deliver very memorable tales of everyday life. They are not just a vehicle for Shannon’s crystalline voice; along with the Kyle’s Ukulele, they carry the songs and are very nearly the 5th member of The Applebutter Express.
I haven’t heard any of the The Applebutter Express’ previous albums, so I’m not prepared to debate how “Handguns and Hammocks” stacks up to any of them. What I can say, though, is that this is one enjoyably bizarre and quirky listen. These guys (and a lady) didn’t leave anything on the field for their latest release – this is about as ambitious an album as you’ll hear from a band without any corporate backing. The Applebutter Express draws from an expansive range of seemingly disparate root influences and incorporate strictly non-rock instrumentation, and the result never fails to be highly distinctive or at the very least extremely interesting. I’ve heard very few modern bands that bring together simple acoustic elements and vocal harmonies, and make them all fit together into such catchy, highly accessible upbeat songs. The Applebutter Express’ eclectic approach is just the thing for those seeking something outside the indie-music norm.
For the most part, the album sees seemingly straightforward, foot-tapping tunes splitting time with more foot-tapping tunes, all of it highlighted by the band’s emotive brogue and intricate arrangements underlain by the rock-solid, funky Ukulele rhythms. The Applebutter Express totally avoids the triteness or sap that so frequently accompanies the various subgenres of acoustic root music. There are no tedious slow-burning ballads to be found here. Right from the opening title track, the album “Handguns and Hammocks” ignites a spark, fuels the flame and then jumps between the fire and a frying pan from track to track!
If your weary soul is searching for peaceful solace, try Iron & Wine instead. However if you need to uplift your laden heart and rekindle your spirits, The Applebutter Express is exactly what the musical doctor would prescribe. Clean-cut vocals and melodies, sharp harmonizing and sprightly instrumentation, make songs like “Just Add Water”, “Start A Fire”, “On The Run”, “Do You Wanna Know”, “Riley”, “Wha Da’ Ya Got?” and “Little Ol’ Drunken Me” awe-inspiring and utterly unforgettable, in that so little, production-wise, can deliver so much, both emotionally and musically.
It would be elementary to say, that being led by a husband and wife team, The Applebutter Express have easy access to complicity within their music, and partly that would be true – but only on an emotional level. There can be no substitute for quality musicianship when delivering a cohesive piece of musical art at this level.