River Arkansas third album is an upbeat, bar sing-along infused with that special kind of Colorado sound. (Courtesy Photo)
Since forming in 2014, The River Arkansas has been steadily building a reputation for being one of Colorado’s more exciting outfits. Mike Clark, who heads up the project in addition to playing and singing in the beloved American roots group The Haunted Windchimes, is establishing himself as one of Colorado’s most capable songwriters with The River Arkansas’ newest album Any Kind of Weather.
The group’s third full-length album evokes the slaphappy atmosphere of a drunken sing-along at a bar that’s about to close up shop for the night. You know that last call is just around the bend, but you don’t care because you’re having such an incredible time. Pristinely recorded and skillfully produced, the album’s 13 songs channel everything from bluegrass to Stevie Wonder with Clark’s lush vocal tying each track together.
The aptly named band was literally formed on the banks of the Arkansas River in Pueblo, Clark’s hometown. A chance run-in with former Paper Bird bassist Macon Terry led to a spontaneous collaborative recording session that was so successful that Clark and Terry decided to team up. The group has had about as much success as a local Colorado band can experience over their five-year tenure, with a Red Rocks Film On The Rocks performance, multiple national tours, and plenty of enthusiastic press under their belt.
It’s immediately apparent while listening to this record that the group’s four members are accomplished musicians who excel at crafting their individual parts to best suit the songs they’re playing on. Rachel Sliker, who plays the violin, tailors her sizable skills masterfully to compliment the straightforward songs on this record, as does virtuosic pianist Ben Gallagher and drummer Robin Chestnut.
My first inclination while hearing album opener “Good Morning” was to wonder how old singer Mike Clark is. Clark, who it turns out is 40, has a voice that brims with warmth and Appalachian charm in a seasoned timbre that sounds aged well beyond his years. “I know you’re doing much better,” he sings, “you’ve got yourself a brand new sweater/you’re set for any kind of weather.” It’s a song that feels unforced and genuinely full of hope.
The honky-tonk anthem “Lady Luck” sounds like it was written with the express purpose of making people get out of their chairs and dance, buoyed by Gallagher’s impeccable piano work and Sliker’s charming fiddle approach. “Balloon Girl” keeps the party going in raucous fashion, while the genre-bending “Big Bald Buddy” seamlessly blends wholesome bluegrass with 70’s classic rock swagger in a song about a curious bearded stranger: “He’s from somewhere, but it ain’t around here.”
Most of Any Kind of Weather is clearly a helluva good time, but there’s a disarming vulnerability hidden in Clark’s voice that leaves the impression that these songs are rooted around something that’s actually quite raw and sober. “Gone in the Morning” opens with subdued finger-plucked guitars and a pastoral fiddle line before bursting into a defiantly celebratory romp. “Let me run so fast / let me run till my heart beats so hard I feel it in my eyes,” Clark sings with a pained voice that’s reminiscent of Jason Molina’s, the late musician behind the influential alt-country groups Magnolia Electric Co. and songs: Ohia. “Let it be / let it roll.”
Any Kind of Weather reveals a capable, workhorse of a band with a deep reverence for American roots music and a knack for solid music-making.
Any Kind of Weather can be purchased on theriverarkansas.com.