Poised to fly: Nothing "Small town" about new CD

Small Town Workers:
The Right of Way,

Rampaging out of your speakers like some kind of mutant '70s riff-rock goliath, Small Town Workers' new album, The Right of Way, takes you to a place where the skies are dark, the choruses are huge, and the forecast calls for track after track of catchy guitar pop. With The Right of Way, the group is making an utterly feasible attempt to jump out of the puddle of the college rock circuit and hit the stratosphere.

Getting their start in 2000 at that on/off/on/off musical mecca that is Harrisonburg, all four members of Small Town Workers were brought together by the dominant force of that particular locale-­ you guessed it, James Madison University.

There, pursuing various musically related fields of study, singer/guitarist Mike Meadows, guitarist/singer Devin Malone (if you've ever wondered what's the difference between a singer/guitarist, and a guitarist/singer, it's that the former is usually the lead, and the latter the backing vocalist), bassist Geoff Sprung, and drummer/percussionist Whit Sellers happened to meet and fall madly in love (with the thought of playing music together), and so began a original-composition themed romance that has stood the test of time.

The group's debut, Blueprints (demos 2000-01), released in 2002, featured a few early versions of tracks available on The Right of Way.

The new album begins with "Strange Life," a Meadows-penned rocker that starts things off with a blast. Lines of vocals like "But you were there in space/To cool me down when I'd get carried away" are punctuated by crunchy guitar riffs and perfectly placed cymbal crashes.

The track begins with what sound like the first two seconds of the track, spooled backwards, leading to an opening cymbal crash– shortly leading to Meadows' fine just-ragged-enough voice belting out the verses.

The album takes off on track two, "Without You," also a highlight from Blueprints.... Here, the rock kicks into overdrive, with staccato guitar providing fitting counter beats to the strong verse vocal melody– and this is all before the chorus has reared its insidiously catchy head.

Meadows reveals, "Everything's coming up, coming up roses/Without you," as he and Malone's twin guitar barrage floats up the power chord scale, leading to Malone's expected, but still damn good, guitar solo.

Track five, "Grace," a 1/2 time acoustic melody bastion– is a nice change of pace from the riffing of the album so far. Here Malone's slide guitar and Meadows' soft acoustic are spread across the stereo spectrum, with the latter's voice toned down from its usual excited state. Meadows and Malone are also using one of their college-honed skills on this track: a cello duet on the song's backing track (the two were both cellists at JMU's Music Industry Program).

I last saw Small Town Workers perform at the Station Break II Release Party, and they were most impressive-­ at least to a confirmed lover of the riff such as myself. Come on down to the group's CD release party at Starr Hill this Saturday night-­ pick up a copy, and you'll be able to relive forever what's sure to be a memorable night.

Small Town Workers CD Release Show with Lure and The Getaway Car at Starr Hill, November 15. $6, 9:30pm.

The Right of Way