You might not think it at first glance, but Muscle Shoals Metaphysical took some six years to finish. The new album from Alabama duo firekid has a spirited tone to it, like it was all caught on tape in one feverish afternoon in the studio. Even with lush, detailed, and pastel production from Jay Joyce – where every layer of guitar, vocal harmonies, keys, and drum machines gets its own space in the mix – there’s still a welcoming spontaneous air to the album, like everything clicked on the first take.
Maybe it was the time the duo had to ruminate and wander their 3.5 acre of forest that brought some precision and duality to their songwriting approach, or maybe it was more of a focus on it being a team effort this time around. On their 2015 self-titled album the aim was anthemic, even a little cheesy in its desire to get crowds singing, but here firekid no longer just feels like a solo project for Dillon Hodges (as it began). Bringing in his creative collaborator and wife Heidi Feek makes the stakes feel lower; the atmosphere seems lighter and the resulting album is breezy, bright, and almost playfully brief.
Hodges’ original intention for firekid as an outlet to try to take original influences and meld them with other genres still applies here. His bluegrass roots matched with Feek’s folk background work seamlessly, even when they start infusing elements of electronica, pop, and hip hop.
You can hear the original stripped-down arrangements here, but the charms of the tracks on Muscle Shoals Metaphysical come when everything swirls together into a fusion of delightful colours. “Blowing Off Steam” stirs bluesy country styles into the mix; opening track “Backwoods” is electro-folk with a vibrant ring; and “Good and Greasy” swerves the Uncle Dave Macon track into trip-hop territory while still retaining the orginal’s buoyant charm and tongue in cheek.
There’s always enough going on to capture your attention in some way, but rarely does the duo’s canvas seem overstuffed. The swirling synth arpeggios on “Put It In The Ring” add a glisten to the chorus, the sweetness of the shimmering mandolin notes on “I Loved You So Long” give it a riding off into the sunset feel, and the jaw harp on “Backwoods” adds a twang over the busy guitar work. Hodges’ technical prowess never falls away from view either. Most tracks here showcase his nimble fingers, all while he keeps his playing loosely tethered to his original bluegrass style.
While Feek takes the lead on “Put It In The Ring”, her tenderness on final track “Blue Roses” seems almost startling for the lightness in the tone of her voice. She definitely deserves more of the spotlight in the future, but at the very least the few moments she gets to shine here help her stand out all the more. The duo might not ever stumble upon any great depth or home truths in their lyrics, but the music feels like it does the heavy lifting. The effervescent layers of acoustic and electronic instrumentation are the aspects that shine on the album and are probably the reason you’ll hit play again. It might have taken six years for them to bring them all together, but you can hardly tell that from how un-fussed-over the eight tracks are.