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Known for the marble facades, majestic domes and white mansions comprising its landmarks, Washington, DC is nonetheless a gritty, hardscrabble city built on a hot marshland and swamped in confrontational politics.
Like their home turf, the Highballers are as sharp dressed as any modern country act -- but go down more like Jim Beam than the Diet Pepsi flowing through today’s tame, corporate country scene. In the tradition of outlaws like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, not to mention mystics like Gram Parsons and the Knitters, the Highballers spin a web of country gold rooted in the diverse backgrounds of their members and the free-spirited abandon of the fiercest gunslinger in the Wild West.
The Highballers were born on the rock of guitarist/vocalist Kendall Jackson and vocalist Hope Hudson in 2007, forging a hard-edged, rockin’ country sound built on the duo’s male-female vocal harmonies. After several personnel shifts, myriad gigs and more than a few empty whiskey bottles, the band arrived at its current lineup of Jackson, vocalist Belen Pifel, guitarist Sean Lally, bassist Charlie Henry and drummer Drake Sorey.
Hailing from New Orleans, where he discovered the outlaw country sounds and swamp funk that inspire him to this day, Jackson moved to Cleveland in the early 1990s and eventually formed his first band, the Dirty Bottom Boys -- raging garage rockers not unlike the background of Lally, who hails from the rival (if you’re into football, anyway) city of Pittsburgh. With bands like the Frampton Brothers and the Breakup Society, Lally opened for the Ramones and cowrote a song recorded by REM's Scott McCaughey -- tuning up his sparkling Fender Telecaster just enough to blow the doors off any club he played.
Henry is no stranger to loud rock ’n’ roll, either, what with his roots in Morgantown, West Virginia blues rockers Stone Crazy (with whom he recorded a cassette album, Shades of Blue) and more recently -- following a life odyssey that saw him finding a career and starting a family -- country rockers Stealin' the Deal, experience that made him a perfect fit when the Highballers' bass slot opened up. Sorey also took a hiatus from music before getting behind a kit again eight years ago, and now pounds proudly behind an array of fine ’60s vintage Slingerland, Rogers and Ludwig kits.
Those drum sets are as polished as Pifel, another veteran whose pipes are as bright and vibrant as her stage presence. The Jackson-Pifel pairing produces harmonies reminiscent of Gram Parsons/ Emmylou Harris and Exene Cervenka/John Doe, pouring out their souls like bourbon and mixing it with harmonies as sweet as cola. Combine that with the pulsating rhythms of Henry and Sorey and the twanging twin Telecasters of Lally and Jackson -- and you have the reasons the band has expanded its bookings beyond DC and earned acclaim in national publications like The Huffington Post.
With two albums now under their belt, Soft Music and Hard Liquor and a brand new self-titled release, the Highballers are poised to climb to the next level. Spit out that modern country diet soda and pour yourself some Highballers. Bottoms up!
–Doug Sheppard, Ugly Things Magazine