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Hospitality’s Southern roots run deep

Carlton Fletcher

While it’s true there aren’t a whole lot of people who purchase music based on packaging, the cover art for Southern Hospitality’s laid-back new album “Easy Livin’” may be as perfect a depiction of the music within as any since “Brothers and Sisters” came out in 1973.

A barely-dressed woman relaxes in a hammock on the “Easy Livin’” cover, hat pulled low over her eyes, a frosty beverage at the ready on a small table nearby and a paddle fan twirling overhead. Off the porch where she relaxes, palm trees and moss-draped oaks complete the scene that is as richly Southern as the album’s 12 songs.

And what a collection it is, a compelling mixture of Southern roots music that is equal parts gut-wrenching blues, New Orleans jazz and funk, hot-buttered soul and Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano boogie. Southern Hospitality — lap steel guitarist Damon Fowler, guitarist JP Soars and keyboard master Victor Wainwright, who are ably backed on “Easy Livin’” by the rhythm section of drummer Chris Peet and bassist Chuck Riley — offer a musical thrill ride through the Southland, leaving their imprint on sacred ground trod by the likes of Dr. John, Duane Allman and Dickie Betts, Little Feat and Willie Nelson.

The trio share vocal duties, their collective range at times reminiscent of artists as diverse as Eric Clapton, Dan Auerbach, Ray Sawyer and Lowell George. The songs, though, are as laid-back Southern as a steaming hot Sunday afternoon. As the band offers in the Reggae-tinged “Don’t Feel Like Going There Today,” “I’d rather spend my time in a mellow kind of way.”

There’s plenty to like about “Easy Livin’,” but the album’s two blues-laced ballads — “Certified Lover” and “Sky Is What I Breathe” — stand out. The vocals are pure Clapton, but the intricate guitar/keyboard interplay would not be out of place in a ramshackle old Mississippi juke joint.

The mood on “Easy Livin’” shifts from Allman Brothers-style guitar jam (“Kind Lies & Whiskey,” the instrumental “Fried Neck Bones and Home Fries,” which owes at least a passing nod to the Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”) to honky tonk rave-up (“Long Way Home,” “Shoestring Budget,” “Come Back Home”) to piano-laced Western swing (“Mile After Mile”).

For music fans who like a little rock in their roll, there’s even some Cream-era Clapton blues on the excellent “Powered for the Mountain.”

Produced and engineered by studio wiz Tab Benoit, “Easy Livin’” is a fine first effort by a combo that started building buzz with its first live performances. That Southern Hospitality are able to create the same excitement in the studio speaks well for the band’s future.

Released on Blind Pig Records, “Easy Livin’” is a fitting soundtrack for everything good about the South. As the band notes in album opener “Southern Livin’,” “This kind of Southern Living make you feel so good.”

Indeed, gentlemen, indeed.