While A Thousand Horses have located to Nashville, Tennessee, and are signed to Republic Nashville, founding members Michael Hobby and Bill Satcher were trading songs on acoustics as teenagers in Newberry, South Carolina, a pleasant settlement otherwise known for its many sports stars and gorgeous local landmark, the Art Deco chrome and neon Ritz Theatre. Oh and don’t forget the town’s local music store where the two 15-year olds would hang out testing the guitars and maybe the owner’s patience. So small town in other words. No matter, our young heroes had plenty of ambition and the duo became a trio when Satcher’s cousin Graham DeLoach moved up from Savannah, Georgia, bringing his bass. He turned a holiday into a career commitment. Zach Brown arrived via mutual acquaintance and he too left Georgia – Atlanta – to complete a properly Dixie style quartet. There were other bands with other names, of course, but A Thousand Horses were officially born in March 2010, named after a song on their debut EP, A Thousand Horses. They were a quintet for a while with drummer Jonathan Carman, out of Charleston, SC holding down the backbeat.
Even while their infrastructure crumbled and was painstakingly rebuilt they won a deal via Interscope Records though it wasn’t yet easy to nail their sound down. As Satcher recalles “Our influences are as deeply rooted in English rock music as they are Country music”. He cites some personal faves as Petty, Dwight Yoakam, and Noel Gallagher. The Led Zep mantra was always popping up but nowadays they will also cite kindred spirits like Eric Church and Jesse Aldean as well as established acts such as Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Confederate Railroad. Good music is simply that, in their book.
Their own road was the traditional one of living in a van, sharing food and meeting the people who populate their songs. The big break was hooking up with producer Dave Cobb who has sparkled magic dust over everyone from Rival Sons and Shooter Jennings (also Waylon Jennings posthumous Forever album) to California Breed, Chris Stapleton and Holly Williams.
Cobb has brought out the Horses core live sound, that being his specialty, and kept the whole thing honest and rough around the edges. The hit single “Smoke” is a genuine Southern rock groove with Robby Turner adding pedal steel and there are simpatico backing vocals from Whitney Coleman and Kristen Rogers. Producer/songwriter Ross Copperman is the collaborator. Additional specialists are the drummer Chris Powell, multi-instrumentalist Brian Purwin and keyboards player Michael Webb.
The Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson helped co-write the outstanding “Sunday Morning” while Brad and Brett Warren brought their experience to bear on the closing song, “Where I’m Going” with its vintage churchy organ feel. The Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston has worked with them from the off. He co-wrote “Suicide Eyes” from the EP, which ended up on the Footloose soundtrack and joined in with the hard rocking live favourite “Travelin’ Man” on the current album.
So a new band to discover, though not quite an outfit that just walked out of the woods. A Thousand Horses are several years in the making, which accounts for their ability to play and project. We love it. Try a blast of “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” for a taste of Hobby’s gritty, hook laden writing, all laced with a tasty fiddle and a heartfelt lyric. A little Southernality will do you the power of good.
Southernality is the hotly anticipated debut album from South Carolina's A Thousand Horses. The pre-release single "Smoke" made a long, steady run up various airplay charts to finally hit the top spot, an anomaly for a debuting artist. Produced by Dave Cobb, this 13-song set offers a smoother side of the group's fiery live persona that weds Southern rock to vintage Rolling Stones and Black Crowes and stomping honky tonk. Southernality is intentionally tempered by modern country's pop tropes. And there's no foul there. It's refreshing, actually. The band's core is frontman Michael Hobby, lead guitarist Bill Satcher, rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Zach Brown, and bassist/backing vocalist Graham DeLoach. They are fleshed out on-stage by five more pieces, including the excellent female vocal trio of Kristen Rogers, Whitney Coleman, and Brianne Angarole, and here by more studio players. The opening chords of "First Time" recall the Stones' intro to "Street Fighting Man" before cranking into a bluesy rave-up. "Heaven Is Close" begins as a simple love song with banjo, fiddle, and acoustic guitars offering a back-porch feel, but power chords, a fat snare and thudding kick drum, and gospelized female harmonies turn it into a Southern rocker. These cuts contrast sharply with the hooky, string-swept, lushly illustrated country-pop of "Smoke," whose metaphor equates unhealthy romantic obsession and tobacco addiction. "Sunday Morning," co-written with Rich Robinson, is a blustery love song with a crying slide and sweeping gospel overtones that make it a rock & roll hymn. Second single "(This Ain't No) Drunk Dial" is spirited pop-country with a distinct melodic hook and soaring, singalong refrain. "Tennessee Whiskey" pretty much follows suit. "Travelin' Man" is a thoroughly revisioned take of the song that appeared on A Thousand Horses' eponymously titled EP in 2010. "Landslide" pastes crunchy hard rock onto Southern R&B. "Back to Me," a thoroughly polished midtempo ballad, is the album's outlier. Unfortunately, it's followed by "Trailer Trashed," an all too familiar swaggering party jam marred by handclaps so massively compressed that they sound like drum loops. With its kaleidoscopic hook, expertly crafted crescendos, and a startling, in-the-round gospel backing chorus, "Hell on My Heart" could easily be another single. Though it might contain an excess track or two, Southernality is a fine debut. This band has been carefully molded for chart success without sacrificing its identity -- or revealing it fully, either. This album, as thoroughly enjoyable as it is, tells only part of the story. A Thousand Horses need to be witnessed live to be fully appreciated. It will be interesting to see what direction they take in the future and if that aspect of their persona is revealed on their records. For now, Southernality delivers on the band's modern country promise and warrants repeated listening.
Words: Thom Jurek