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Artists are always prodded to describe what style of music they play, and more often than not, the answer consists of some melding of multiple genres. It is easy to be critical of these answers, especially when the sounds seem at the surface very easy to define. Paul Cauthen and David Beck, better known as Austin duo Sons of Fathers, exemplify a group unwilling to back into a stylistic corner. The songs on their new album, Burning Days, stand alone within the formats of country, folk, roots-rock, gospel and even soul, while blending effortlessly into a strong, cohesive record that flows from start to finish.
The two singer/songwriters brought their distinct sounds and writing together after struggling separately in the competitive Texas music city. Paul was raised in church singing harmonies and playing guitar from a very early age. David is the son of Bill Whitbeck, bass player for Robert Earl Keen. “Around my house growing up, we didn’t watch TV. My dad played records, and there were always instruments lying around the house,” says David, when asked about his musical childhood. “They weren’t any different than Legos.” The guys’ very different voices blend together to create continuous two-part harmonies that draw comparisons to The Everly Brothers’, but there’s something very unique in what they do. “You can have two people that sing great together, and it just not work out because of tonality and the physicalities of human beings,” David relates. “The Everly Brothers are the masters.”
After an exceptional debut album, the band came to Nashville to try and shape a totally new feel with engineer Vance Powell, who has been integral to the recording projects of rock-blues visionary Jack White. However, the big rock-drum sound might have been too much of a departure. Reconvening in Austin with producer-musician Lloyd Maines (Dixie Chicks, Robert Earl Keen), they blended the style they had created on their debut with the new direction of Burning Days. “It would have been too much,” says Paul. “It would be a totally different record. We realized that we could go along with this; it could be a big-sounding record, or we could do what the song calls for. So we came back, talked to Lloyd about it, and started fresh.”
The album mixes rock-guitar-driven tunes like “Hurt Someone” and “Feel the Fall” with old-style, country-flavored fare like “Selfish Mind” and “To Whom.” Lyrically, Sons of Fathers speak from experience when describing their struggles with life and love. “I want everyone to know how real this band is,” Paul says emphatically. “We’re writing from real experience, not other people’s experience. These are our stories.”
The textures the band provided characterize the single “Roots and Vines,” using an accordian, the haunting “Almost There,” with a lap-steel solo from Lloyd Maines, and multiple songs with vintage keyboards and guitar tones. Studio magic happened on the track “O.G.C.T.A.W.,” where avant-garde production ideas mix with harmonic bliss to create a sonic palette quite unexpected for alt-country. “As far as bending the rules in the studio, that’s what The Beatles did for us,” Paul says. “We knew that they were experimental and we have found out the more you turn knobs and the more you screw stuff up, you can luck out and find something that you like.”
Lloyd, their producer, provided an outside perspective on song choice and arrangements, whittling down the nearly 40 new songs to 10. Paul elaborates on the duo’s two albums. “The last one was Dave and I really learning how to sing together, stepping away from one or the other being a frontman in a band. The second one was singing for the song, picking tones and collaborating musically for the song,” he says. “People are gonna try to pinpoint this sound—and I say good luck.”