Red Idle Rejects is the product of both abrupt ends and new beginnings. The lead singer and songwriter of the group, Steve Bowling, was apparently once in another band called the Red Idles, but when he tried to convince his bandmates that they should embrace a more alternative country sound, he was roundly rejected. Not satisfied to sit and lick the wounds of his battered ego, Steve started a new group, one that would allow him to fully embrace his Kentucky roots. That band is, of course, Red Idle Rejects.
Ink and Nicotine is Red Idle Rejects second LP, released a full six years after the group’s debut, Where the Lonely Reside. The album is built around a tryptic of songs that make up the middle strait of the album: “Ink and Nicotine Part I: Tradition,” “Ink and Nicotine Part II: That Moon Ain’t Right Abraham,” and “Ink and Nicotine Part III: Love and Dust.” These central passages tell a story of how the drying up of the coal industry accelerated conditions of immiseration and social dysfunction in Appalachia and how drugs, specifically painkillers, filled the void left my industry, with devastating results. Dark material for sure, but when addressed by Steve and the rest of the band, the human drama at its center comes to the forefront making this story not just an exploration in empathy, but about the power of compassion and love as well.
While Ink and Nicotine is undoubtedly a country album, it feels a little funny describing it as an alternative country album, despite its embrace of rock and roll rhythms and electric guitars. This category collapse is due to the traditional nature of many of the melodies on the album. “Way Down Deep in the Jar” has a swinging, string-popping, hill-running quality to it that I would (correctly, in my opinion) associate with the folk revival and strummy rockabilly of Robbie Fulks, while “Our Courtyard Tile” appears to borrow its ambling groove from the new folk stylings of Bob Dylan, specifically the wistful rocking of “Blowin in the Wind”‘s chorus, and “Underground ” matches the sleepless, fire-bellied folk-rock of P. A. Pritchett recent output. Whatever you want to call it, Ink and Nicotine is a good time.
You can stream Ink and Nicotine below via Bandcamp: