If ever there was a lost Son of the South, it is Erik Viel. With music firmly entrenched in the mid-70s and a guitar inhabiting ghosts of Toy Caldwell, Dickie Betts and Pete Carr, Viel succeeds where so many others have failed, recreating the very essence of a South on the rise through its music. Judging from the many Southern musicians making names for themselves these days, perhaps the South is rising again. Erik Viel would certainly give you that impression.
Among the originals on Off the Beaten Path, Viel substitutes songs by a couple of the greats of that 70s era—I'll Be Loving You by Toy Caldwell (Marshall Tucker Band) and Multi-Colored Lady by Gregg Allman—though substitute is perhaps not the word. He, more accurately, inserts them and such that one hardly feels the bump, for there is no great stretch between those by Caldwell and Allman and Viel's own Southern Highway and I'll Wait Another Day. As all are Sons of the South, those are Songs of the South and have that something which distinguishes them from all others, be it the soaring guitar or the Chuck Leavell-like piano or the Eric Quincy Tate style Hammond organ. And it does not hurt to have Doug Gray soundalikes Andrew Black and Nick Gravelding along for the ride on two tracks, providing a Marshall Tucker edge.
Viel is not completely Southern Rock by any means. Between the rockers, he tosses in 'tone poems'—somewhat introspective musical interludes keying on guitar. Complete songs by themselves, they give a break from the olden days, taking the listener on musical journeys more in common with the acoustic guitarists of the 80s, a period of melodic improvisation and experimentation. Sometimes with band, at others with only percussion, Viel proves his worth as musician and composer no less than six times and caps the album off with the ethereal organ/guitar movement Badlands, Chris Corso's Hammond a perfect foil for Viel's spectral electric leads. Among the album's fine moments, this ties it together in feel and sound.
No doubt, a few will be taken aback by the Marshall Tucker nuance here and there and the nods to the Allman Brothers (the cover of Multi-Colored Lady is spot on, by the way), but this goes way beyond tribute. The sound is seamless and only a part of Viel's aura. You can thank Viel's choice of sidemen for a portion of that. These guys can play and play they do. After a few listens, one can hardly tell where the originals end and the covers begin. Even the influence of Southern Rock begins to fade in the flow of the music. After awhile, it's just—well, music. And mighty good music at that.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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