Manifest Refugees, Philville Records 2018
"Listening to the new The Detroit Sportsmen's Congress album is like listening to Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, 70s country, 90s alt-country, and roadhouse country all at the same time. If you like real country music with bite, you'll love this record. "
"...even more clear is what’s in the grooves, which is pretty damn fine from the opening Old Man’s First Call; a sweet steel infused song about the bar life of a man who starts the day drinking coffee and moves to the harder stuff as his first, rather than last, call. From then on Sayles’ songs run through a number of experiences that are tied in with the way everyone has to deal with the effects that time and tribulation have in tempering an individual view, for any particular lifespan. Between some the songs there are the occasional samples from radio and other such utterances (often related, not unsurprisingly given the band name origin, to duck hunting). The overall effect makes for a slice of alt. country that engages and embodies the real spirit of honky-tonk music.
But titles like Don’t Drink The Water, Whites Of Their Eyes, Defan Saleau (with its hints of a Cajun lifestyle via the accordion) and Life Gets In The Way, offer an overview on how things can so easily slip away. Taking a similar world-weary tone is Can’t Track Myself Down, while the album closes with the pretty factual statement that Truth Is Now A State Of Mind. It rides along on twanging guitars, flowing pedal steel and a highway rhythm topped by Sayles knowing vocal. As good a way to end what is a solid mission statement from this entertaining, upright and upbeat collective."
Ghost of the Damned, Philville Records 2016
"The title song 'Ghost of the Damned' begins with mournful Mandolin solo joined by echoing dobro accompanying a criminal's story. The crime theme continues with the murder of Roy Lee Centers, the singer who replaced Carter Stanley in the Clinch Mountain Boys. Dobro and harmonica set the tone for 'Cursed Rover' a horseman forever riding till the end of time. The pace of the music uplifts into California Swing rhythm with Matt's song about Swing Music King Spade Cooley who killed his wife and died before he was released from jail. Fiddles abound in 'Herlong Mamma,' and vocals tumble out in tribute to 'mammas that just don't quit.' Guitar dobro and harmonica wrap around the melody as they sashay through the traditional 'Alabama Jubilee.' An album highlight is 'Columbus Stockade Blues' which Matt delivers with a bluesy backbeat and intertwined guitar solos.
Engaging warm vocals, swirling guitar and dobro solos, and a dash of old country rhythm make this an album worth playing over and over again!"
Ask members of the Ventucky String Band what they appreciate in the bluegrass and country legends who inspire them, and they will say the musicianship. The new Ventucky String Band album, the expertly woven tapestry of The Band Plays On, has musicianship in spades, in the staccato punch of plucked bass and the über-tight banjo harmonies. Songs like the peppy “Careful How You Catch ’Em” are so note perfect it’s hard to believe they weren’t pulled from a time capsule. But it’s also true to form in the deeply affecting lyrics, lovelorn and honest, like on “Buenos Aires Blues,” when singer Matt Sayles sings, “Time stretched me out, and I’m feeling like a sorry old fool.” Fun, succinct, and moving, too, it’s an accomplished work from a very talented bunch.”
“The Ventucky String Band has been plucking away around these parts since 2010, and in the process has established itself as one of the premier acoustic acts in the area. With its latest release, The Band Plays On, there are two new facets to the group that help take things to the next level. One is Lauren Donahue, who’s joined the group on fiddle and vocals. Having a female voice in the previously all-male lineup now gives the harmonies and vocals a new, interesting layer. The second reason Ventucky String Band is reaching new heights is the songwriting. Groups that focus heavily on the playing (and with the word “string” in the name, they certainly have to) tend to let the actual song take the back seat in order to get to the ripping banjo and mandolin solos. In the case of The Band Plays On, however, Ventucky String Band puts just as much focus on the storytelling and melodies as it does on the actual performance.”
Happenstance, Philville Records 2014
“On the wonderfully diverse album "Happenstance," half of which was tracked live, the quartet casually conveys its mastery of traditional bluegrass instruments such as the fiddle and the banjo in a way that can only be described as “shredding.” Toe-tapping clever ditties like the swingin’ “Reaper Don’t Care” and the darker “Hell Needs Preachers Too” are juxtaposed by the absolutely sublime instrumental “High Desert Sonata” and “So Much Love in This World,” which could easily cross over into mainstream country radio. My personal favorite is the jazzed-up “Ventuck You,” a laugh-out-loud anti-ode to California girls that features Whiskey Chimp’s Bill Flores playing horns and tenor banjo. 'I’ve seen enough of these girls with big shades on, thinking somebody cares about their goings-on, Struttin’ around like their shit don’t stink, famous in their minds but too busy to think.' Good stuff.”
“The Ventucky String Band’s handle is a play on the Poinsettia City’s redneck roots, back when many of those yahoo-friendly folks worked a few miles up the Ventura Avenue in the yet-producing oil fields. Matt Sayles out of Michigan is the frontman; Dave White out of Indiana plays banjo and mandolin; and Rick Clemens, the only California native, plays bass. There’s a new member, fiddle master Mark Parson, who’s one of the former drunken simians in Whiskey Chimp. Also giving a huge helping hand is Bill Flores (of Jeff Bridges' Band "the Abiders"), a master musician who can and does play anything.”
Rush the Growler, Philville Records 2013
“When Carl’s Jr. launched the Western Bacon Cheeseburger in the early ’80s, one of its San Diego restaurants had receipts printed with the rather celebratory phrase “Shit Howdy!” at the top. The Ventucky String Band’s latest, Rush the Growler, is a bit like that surprise: Songs about chasing girls and chasing beer rub shoulders with energetic fiddles, fine guitar picking and harmonious harmonica playing. Titles like “She’s Looking Better Every Beer,” “Bottom of the Glass” and “Sick Sober & Sorry” are perfect for lost Sundays recuperating from the previous night’s alcoholic annihilation. It sounds as if they — bassist Rick Clemens, fiddler Mark Parson, guitarist Matt Sayles, mandolinist Dave White — had a real hoot making the CD (recorded live, in real time, inside a rustic cabin), and the overall effect is not unlike being invited to sit in on the recording session and enjoy the inestimable fruits of their ballsy labors. ”
Wilson's Hotel, Philville Records 2008
"Wilson's Hotel" is a working man's album. It has a world-weary feel to it. This is a world full of booze, kind women, and guys who work themselves to the bone every day. The lyrics remind me of early John Prine. They're brilliant, hitting the mark with cynicism and ironic humor. The instrumentation and recording on this album are superb. Strap on your headphones, or listen very closely. Whether you're a fan of Folk or Blues, this is an album to be treasured.
Sayles describes the content of this album as "thematic material that reflects his western travels and Michigan heritage" . It's a solid mix of his own songs and makeovers of traditional tunes.
The detailed and chatty sleeve notes (oddly enough, there's no lyric sheet) identify the location, mood and objective that lies behind each song. The songs express an affinity for the troubled history of the U.S.A as well as reflecting upon more contemporary concerns.
As a consequence, the mood switches between the laid back and the seriously jaunty. The vocals on downbeat songs are reminiscent of the dour delivery of Son Volt's Jay Farrar. On Coming Back, for instance, Sayles examines the grim lives of the citizens of Flint which has one of the highest murder rates in the U.S. and on Breathing Smoke he tells of the plight of petty criminals trained as fire fighters and destined to be repeat offenders if they don't perish first in dealing with California's wildfires.
No Shame, Philville Records 2003
"Clever songwriting alongside rearranged classics-- a throwback style that knows good, old-fashioned storytelling...yet is utterly unpretentious about modernity.”
The Source, Bend OR.