Chances are you may have not heard of Banditos, and that’s a shame. The Nashville (by way of Birmingham, AL)-based group released their self-titled debut on Chicago’s Bloodshot Records in 2015, a record that swirled classic rock and infused that with bluesy swagger, diced it with garage rock insularity and gave it life with a country undercurrent. The combination was raucous and made songs like “Still Sober (After All These Beers)” secret alt-country classics. So, it’s really no surprise that their follow-up album, Visionland takes that sound and adds elements that make it sound a little more, well, apocalyptic.
The six-piece’s latest feels higher-stakes than its predecessor. There’s a nervous energy that propels tracks like the album opener “Fine, Fine Day” forward. The voices of guitarist Corey Parsons and banjo player Stephen Pierce coupled with that of singer Mary Beth Richardson immediately feel something straight out of Exile on Main Street era Rolling Stones before giving way to a furious acid-rock guitar solo. It’s a great table setter, as the following song “Strange Heart” delves into some serious Sly and the Family Stone There’s a Riot Goin’ On burnout territory. The ballad is a showcase for Richardson’s howl – the rhythm section sounds a little cooked, with the guitar and banjo dance lines between each other.
This sound permeates much of the record – many of the songs contain an undercurrent of tension and palpable anxiety, whether it be the Allman Brothers mini-suite of the title track or the slow waltz of “Healin’ Slow”. The mood lightens just a little on “Fun All Night” with something that sounds like a kazoo solo. It’s the most playful song on the record by far and feels like a hat tip to their previous record.
What’s great about Banditos is that while their influences are apparent – the Stonesy-swagger, the powerful backing vocals and the fluidness of their CCR-style energy, they’re a band that feels like they belong right now. Just when it feels like they’re leaning a little too far into a tribute-band direction, a blitzkrieg solo will launch out of nowhere or a verse will go from a country shuffle slow to an indie-rock dirge. During a time in history where nothing feels certain, it only seems appropriate that there are bands like Banditos to circumvent expectations. From the sound of it, Visionland sounds like a place worth visiting. Head over and stay for a while.