Big steps forward for Maine’s country-rockers the Mallett Brothers Band

For the past year and a half, the Mallett Brothers Band have spent most of their time on the road. In the middle of the week singer-guitarist Luke Mallett might be back in the Portland area to pick up a few carpentry jobs, and drummer Brian Higgins might work a show or two at the State Theatre, but the rest of the time, they’re either onstage or in the van. They’re turning into road warriors, and so far, so good – they’re gaining further musical chops, and friends and connections, and an appreciation for the size of the country.

Which is why the band’s third album, “Land,” which comes out next weekend at a record release party set for Saturday, April 27 at the Asylum in Portland, is their most mature, solid collection of songs yet. All ten songs are road-tested, and have come directly out of the experience of spending the better part of a year in cities all across the Eastern seaboard, and as far away as Texas.

“I think the overarching theme for the whole album is the road,” said Luke Mallett, who with his brother, Will, founded the band with Higgins, bassist Nick Leen, dobro player Wally Wenzel and multi-instrumentalist Nate Soule in 2009. “Just seeing so much of the country. Some homesickness, for sure. I wouldn’t say we’re road weary, but I would say that it affects you in a big way when you’re constantly moving like that.”

“Land” is a lean, crisply produced ten song album, a blending of the two approaches the band took on their first two albums, 2010′s self-titled debut and 2011′s “Low Down.” The sincere, rootsy warmth of their acoustic songs, like the gentle swing of “In the Fold,” blend seamlessly into their rockabilly-influenced alt-country rave-ups, like album closer “Piece of Land.” Single EP “Little Bit of Mud” is included here, which is as close to a Maine-centric hit song as anyone Maine band has gotten in recent years – though “All Kinds of Crazy” might turn into the live favorite, and might help them cross over even more into the mainstream country audience.

Though “Land” is anything but a mainstream country album. It’s got a lot more in common with bands and artists like Neil Young, Steve Earle and, sometimes, a less outwardly jammy Allman Brothers Band. “Land” also boasts a higher production value, something Luke Mallett attributes completely to producer Jonathan Wyman, who has become something of a legend among Maine bands.

“He’s a real master of his craft,” said Mallett of Wyman, who operates The Halo, his studio in Westbrook. “Wally [Wenzel] had produced all our albums for us before, but this time we knew we wanted to take the next step. We raised a bunch of money through a Kickstarter campaign, and we wanted to work with him [Wyman]. His input was invaluable. It was a big step for us, and it was exactly what we wanted.”

For their first two albums, the Malletts kind of flew by the seat of their pants – as soon as the songs were written, they recorded them. For “Land,” they had well over a year to write and perfect new songs, and by the time they went into the studio they had 20 songs to pick from, some of which were written before their year of touring, some of which were written on the road. Some were written in a house the band rented in Asheville, North Carolina. Some were written in the van.

“We had a lot of weeding to do,” said Luke Mallett. “It was kind of a, let’s throw everything against the wall and see what sticks kind of thing. It’s nice to have stuff to choose from. It’s nice to feel like you have the luxury of taking your time.”

Once “Land” is officially out, the Malletts don’t have plans to change their scheme much. They’re going to keep touring, whether it’s in New England, or even further west. They want to make it to California this year. They’re getting used to always being on the go.

“The hard part is the down time. But the rest of it is surprisingly easy. As long as we’re gigging, we’re happy,” said Mallett. “We just want to keep going and going and go further and further. We want to visit the same cities, too, and keep making friends. We just want to increase our circle. That’s always been the goal. Just bring as many people as we can into the circle.”

The Mallett Brothers Band will play Saturday, April 20 at the Strand Theatre in Rockland with Will and Luke Mallett’s father, David Mallett, and they will play a record release party for “Land” with the band Eastbound Jesus, set for Saturday, April 27 at the Asylum in Portland.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a University of Maine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, taken belly dancing classes, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.