So, no pressure then. Palomino Studios in LA was booked by Water Tower for the day after a two-month tour while the tour energy was still fresh and everything would be recorded live in one day. It was traditionally the way string bands recorded; get everyone around a mic and the volume adjustment is done by moving away from or closer to it. Should have been relatively easy until the car broke down and the upright bass fell apart cutting four hours out of their session time. And they only managed to limit the songs to fifteen (or sixteen if you split out the opening segue). No pressure at all but, for performing musicians shit like this happens day in and day out. I’ll come back to that later.

I like the idea of the traditional string band; musicians who play and sing to a really high standard in a live or studio setting while keeping an Appalachian tradition alive. But things also move on and Water Tower do a couple of things that help keep the style fresh; they approach it with a sense of humour (not untypical in string bands) and they happily throw in influences from other musical styles and not always what you might expect; how about the percussive acoustic guitar-led cover of Tupac’s ‘California Love’? The link is the location, but I certainly wouldn’t have seen that one coming.

The album opens with a solo banjo version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ (no Hendrix pyrotechnics, just tight, technical playing featuring some nice double-stopped passages) which leads into a cover of Doc Watson’s ‘Reuben’s Train’ showcasing the talents of all the players. The traditional string band tunes that give all the players the chance to improvise and show their abilities form the backbone of the album; ‘I See the Light’ is a slow triple-time piece with a high-register Kenny Feinstein vocal and intertwining banjos, ‘Lonesome Blues’ rattles along with instrumental virtuosity and superb harmonies and ‘Stay the Night’ flies along at breakneck speed hinting at the pace of the recording process, particularly in the spoken outro. And there’s a version of ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ (yep, the same one that Swedish band Rednex covered when the UK rave scene finally jumped the shark).

These tunes are all great fun but the album becomes really distinctive when the influences that the induvial band members bring feed into the songs. ‘Radio’ is punk Americana with a couple of Clash references, ‘George Washington’ highlights our mortality and transience while taking a sideswipe at internet conspiracy theories and ‘Skante Warrior’ digs into the dark world of meth-heads which is contrasted with the gorgeous falsetto Beach Boys/Four Seasons harmonies. And then ‘AM PM’, with a Jackson Browne/David Lindley feel is a very rare thing indeed, a song about supermarket price offers.

Coming back to the recording process, everything was recorded live in two takes for each song and it’s mainly the first takes that feature on the album. There are three things about this album that grabbed my attention; the playing and singing are outstanding, it feels like the band are having fun and it made me explore a concept that I had no knowledge of (the urban mythology of meth-heads explored in ‘Skante Warrior’). Enjoyment and instruction.

‘Live from Los Angeles’ is a great capture of the live energy of Water Tower and it’s released in the UK on Friday August 11th. If you want to capture the real thing in the UK, Water Tower will be touring the UK and Ireland from August 10th. You can find the dates here.

As an extra bonus, here’s a live video of ‘Take Me Back’: