Round and Shiny: Andy Vaughan Finds the Song

My favorite happy accidents have been musical ones. During our epic Civil War field trip last year (yep, we're nerds), we were wandering through Richmond, Va., when a band flyer caught my eye. A be-Stetsoned dude was hoisting a double-necked guitar in the photo. That was enough for me.

So to our otherwise airtight itinerary was added an impromptu visit to a down-home nightspot called the Camel. The headliner featured on the flyer turned out to be from Van Nuys. But opening act Andy Vaughan & the Driveline was the honky-tonkin' pride of Richmond.

The party vibe of the Camel was fully percolating by the time Andy and the boys hit the stage. The liquor flowed, the pedal-steel wailed and by the end of the Driveline's set, we were fans. We signed up for the mailing list and picked up a copy of the quintet's homemade debut CD, but despite its charms, that disc did not include the set's best songs.

Some months later, we pitched in for the band's Kickstarter campaign to fund their new album — and a few days ago received an e-mail with the download codes for 11 new tracks. Searching for the Song doesn't disappoint; one listen and I was transported to my booth at the Camel, a stupid grin plastered on my face.

Andy Vaughan's lived-in voice is ably supported by Jerry Renshaw's killer lead guitar, Tim Stanton's expressive pedal steel and the implacable, muscular rhythm section of Erik Kutzler (bass) and Chip Farnsworth (drums). Furthermore, the Driveline have the road-tested dynamic range to raise the roof and drop down to a whisper as needed.

But even the best musicians can fade to a beer-soaked soundtrack without great songs. Fortunately, Vaughan is a first-rate tunesmith with an exceptional feel for classic country (with a nod to Bakersfield).

The singer-guitarist excels at serving tear-in-my-beer tropes with the slightest wink, but Searching also finds him exploring more emotionally raw territory.

It's not easy to marry a breezy, shuffling melody to an affectingly melancholy lyric, but he does it with aplomb. Witness the jaunty heartbreak of the opener, "One More Teardrop," the boom-chuck kiss-off "Movin' On," the infectious infidelity ode "Caught on the Fence" or the lilting lament "Hello Misery."

The singer-guitarist excels at serving tear-in-my-beer tropes with the slightest wink, but Searching also finds him exploring more emotionally raw territory, notably on the title track and the fierce album closer, "Don't Tell Me I Ain't Country," a riposte to Nashville slicksters and trend-watchers that crackles with commitment.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Vaughan's most heartfelt songs have to do with making music. It's thus heartening that an artist of such dedication and skill was able to finance his album with 100% fan power.