Photo contributed by New Transit
The band name New Transit evokes an image of a semi-futuristic bus cruising down a desert highway, gleaming in the sun, and occasionally stopping to exchange riders before bolting off to its next destination. The Boise-based Americana band New Transit is much like that bus. Over the duration of its eight-year history the ridership of New Transit has shifted from album to album but the course that it initially charted as an outlet for roots music-based songwriting has remained constant.
New Transit was originally founded as a vehicle for singer-songwriters Sean Hatton and Adam Gates in 2009, on guitar and bass respectively. The group’s first album “One” was an even mixture of songs by the two. Although he contributed to the songs and recording of their second album “Country Music Dead,” Gates left the band following its release to focus on his family. Gates’ replacement, bassist Jeremy Coverdale, was a brief fixture in the group and founding lead guitarist Dave Manion left not long after for other musical pursuits.
Undeterred by these departures, Hatton responded by adding two in-demand sidemen from the Boise scene: Bernie Reilly and Thomas Paul. It should be added that founding drummer Louis McFarland, the smoothly purring motor of this metaphorical bus, has remained a steady presence throughout. As a foursome the crew recorded their eponymous third album, which was self-released in June.
Hatton has never felt fully at ease being the focal point of the group, preferring to work in a more collaborative project. In Gates’ absence he was rather reluctant to solely take on the creative leadership duties.
“I was always looking for a band that was a ‘band,’” says Sean. “I may be the one that pushes things forward to some extent. Bernie likes to tell me that in every democracy you still have to have somebody who makes the final decision and unfortunately I have to be that guy and I stress ‘unfortunately.’ I still prefer their input on everything we do to my own inclinations.”
Although he wrote all the material on “New Transit,” Hatton opted to give his bandmates more creative input on the album by relegating his presence to only singing and allowing McFarland, Reilly, and Paul full control of the production.
Handing over the arrangement duties to the band members perhaps explains why the textures are more varied on “New Transit” than on previous efforts. Occasionally the record takes a turn towards the quasi-experimental with vignettes like vocal harmony-heavy introductory track “Where Do We Go From Here” or the sparse piano and manipulated vocal duet “In Our Nature.” The ballad “I’ll Do My Part” becomes a warm, soul song with the addition of a horn section and Hammond organ. Elsewhere on the album, “In a Cold Dark Spiral” is driven by a bossa nova rhythm and electric piano that hearkens back to the yacht-rock sound of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers or Christopher Cross.
That’s not to say there isn’t a fair amount of twang on the album. The highway rock anthem “So We Run” embraces a mellow alt-country feel that, dare it be said, sounds reminiscent of the Eagles. The album closer “She Moves Me A Little” is an up-tempo barroom waltz and arguably the most hardcore country the band has ever sounded.
Guitarist-singer-songwriter Thomas Paul reflects positively on the interpersonal vibe present in New Transit. “It’s a good batch of guys. It’s a good mix of personalities. You get us in the van and you have two motor mouths with two quieter, thoughtful people — who aren’t wilting flowers or anything. We just seem to have a good dynamic. It a good balance of that ‘let’s get things done’ energy versus that ‘let’s be patient’ energy.”
New Transit is carrying forward with the former as they’ve already prepared a new batch of songs for a fourth record. This time around, though, the songwriting duties are spread out amongst Hatton, Reilly, and Paul, the latter two being accomplished authors in their own right prior to joining. Paul expects that their set will be peppered with those new compositions so audience members will have a notion of where New Transit will be stopping next.
New Transit performs at Roy Raley Park, Pendleton, on Wednesday, August 16.
James Dean Kindle is the East Oregonian’s entertainment columnist, the executive director of the Oregon East Symphony and a Pendleton musician. Contact him at email@example.com.