I haven’t stopped listening to “Don’t Peel Your Bloomers Off Just Yet” by Wesley Allen Hartley and the Traveling Trees since I got it half a year ago. It’s a gorgeous and devastating album written by a transplanted Texan with one of the most beautiful voices you’ll hear in Maine.
The Traveling Trees, in addition, are easily one of the most impressive alt-country acts I’ve heard, regardless of region or era. They manage to encapsulate the magic of vintage country recordings (Think Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings, etc.) while also inventing a floaty “horse-shoegaze” sound, both backwoods-rustic and ethereal, that is all their own.
Derek Reynolds is an accomplished bass player with miles of style and technical skill. His sharp takes on textbook walking bass lines are well complimented by Jon Donnell’s spare and economic standing drum-kit playing.
“Dream House,” the most upbeat number on the disc, showcases the group’s tight-knit rhythmic playing and also features a second, fuzzier bass part from backing vocalist Leslie Deane. The interplay between Hartley and Deane’s vocals is sublime and comes to the fore on slower tracks like “Teaching” or “Marching Begun.” Lap Steel player Gregg Hoover is also incredibly proficient with his instrument and brings an incredible dimension of atmospherics to the proceedings. “You Can Change (Major Tight Slip Up),” in particular, takes on a cinematic scope thanks to Hoover’s sweeping slide part.
“Bloomers…” on the whole, is a complex release. The flow of the album tells a story of bitter and brutal heartache with a yearning and authentic romanticism that is hard to find in contemporary songwriting. Hartley is the sort of rare lyricist who can write a blindingly sweet love song without the slightest hint of irony or posturing.
Hopefully this album and the preceding “Narrow Gauge Quad Trains” will see a more widespread release, because they deserve to be heard by a much larger audience. For the moment, one would be well advised to seek out a Traveling Trees show in order to pick up a copy of this disc. It’s one of the best and most under discussed, local releases in recent memory.