To hear Pulitzer-winning author William Kennedy tell it, Albany is a city littered with ghosts. Richard Buckner, during a recent area show, seemed to sense the haints, noting (somewhat grimly) how apt his Spoon River songs seemed for the occasion. Local mainstays the Coal Palace Kings pack enough of a wallop to scatter those phantoms, however, and the only spirits allowed in the house when the group fires up its nervy, rocked-up twang are those of similarly minded predecessors such as Jason & the Scorchers and the Long Ryders.
Howe Glassman started the Coal Palace Kings in the mid-1990s after dissolving his country-punk outfit the Dugans, placing an ad in the local paper for a “Hank Williams and the Clash meets Hüsker Dü kind of band.” When it was time to put together a demo, he called on old friend Walter Salas-Humara of the Silos to produce. (Glassman had served as the Silos road manager for several tours.) “I think he did it for a bottle of Maker’s Mark,” chuckles Glassman. Originally a trio, the group evolved through several lineup changes and released two albums, 1997′s Pine Away and 1999′s Everyone’s Got Drinking Stories.
More recently, the band has settled into a definitive lineup. Joining Glassman and longtime guitarist Larry Winchester after the second album were drummer George Lipscomb, bass player Jeff Sohn and pedal steel player Rick Morse.
The group’s synergy arises in part from the diversity of their ages and influences. Morse, the eldest member, has been a noted country rock player in the area since the late ’60s, while Winchester, the youngest, remembers finding his muse in early Soul Asylum. “But I think the important thing is not where we come from, but where we come together,” Sohn says.
Where the group comes together is on its new album, Upstate, due April 16 on KranePool Records. The disc represents two years of honing new songs through steady gigging, both locally and at regional venues such as the Lakeside Lounge in New York City. Upstate is a tighter effort than Everyone’s Got Drinking Stories and features the band’s finest batch of songs yet.
“Most of the credit goes to Jeff,” claims Glassman, the band’s principal songwriter. “He’s really good at orchestrating a song and picking out parts to work on.” Sohn’s songwriting and vocals shine on the ominous, searing “Stoneytown”, upon which Winchester busts open a buttload of smoldering riffs. The rousing, rocked-up joy of “Cecil King” picks up on a frequent theme, the sorry state of the group’s vans.
Whether fueling happy hour in a blue-collar neighborhood bar or enlightening a trendy NYC roots crowd, the Kings have long been appreciated as a blistering live act. Now they’ve made an album to match that reputation.