“Orange County’s been on a pretty steady kick of classic rock inspired bands lately—not perhaps all that surprising given that it’s an easy way to contrast against the club rush—but the leader is originally from Alabama rather than Anaheim. If their debut EP together isn’t entirely Muscle Shoals redux, it’s still got a kind of roots tinge that sounds like it could be at home there as much as here. Hartline’s own background first lay in solo performances and releases but the current band lineup is only a few months old and immediately adds a hearty kick to what otherwise might have been overly earnest singer/songwriter efforts.
It has to first be said that Hartline and company push no particular boundaries here — at many points it’s comfort food rock that’s engaging and pleasant, often cranking up the amps a bit but not uniquely remarkable. Yet what’s enjoyable about the group’s performances is how many songs never quite seem to be what you think they’ll start out as. Good production and recording doesn’t hurt—again, it’s nothing remarkably unique but it’s clearly not a random hit-the-tape session.
More importantly, though, songs will suddenly speed up or slow down on a dime to pump up the drama just enough, drop in some fierce soloing and actually raise a collective ruckus instead of just wanting to be a good-time bar band. There’s also some pretty obvious flecks of the kind of hit-the-epic-heights that U2 bequeathed to the listening nation, though (maybe “Sell You Something” aside) happily Hartline never quite yodels like Bono.
Instead, there’s a quick, almost cheery immediacy evident on a song like “Down To The River,” one of many numbers that showcases the not-so-secret weapon of Karli McEntee’s violin playing, adding a kind of lovely turn that Lisa Germano once gave to John Mellencamp. Shades of Hammond organ via guest Lewis Richards and saxophone on other tracks add a bit of Springsteenish pomp without pushing it too hard (thankfully), while guitarist/singer and Maryland transplant Jason Hensley gets his own vocal turn on the explicitly Southern-referencing “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
Earnest crypto-back-to-basics acts are almost a dime a dozen throughout the country these days but these guys have their own nice little spin on things that could be worth keeping an eye on.” -Ned Raggett, OC WEEKLY