Don’t let the baby face of Myron Elkins fool you. You pipe up Factories, Farms & Amphetamines, and it’s like you’re immediately ferried off to some faraway, ramshackle roadhouse set in 1970s sepia, with some 70-year-old cat in polyester butterfly collars crooning out stories of blood and bruises through a voice eroded from decades of unfiltered Kool menthols, and enough drams of whiskey down the gullet to match the water displacement of an oil tanker.
Not since Colter Wall have you been flabbergasted by the age behind a young man’s voice, and it’s a voice that has something to say, delivered in a style that immediately ingratiates itself to the audience. It’s like a fusion of Southern rock, soul country and country blues, deep fried and smothered in brown gravy with a biscuit on the side for sopping. It may be hell on the heart, but it’s manna for the soul.
The 21-year-old Myron Elkins didn’t grow up in the deep South. But as this Dave Cobb-produced debut album explains, it doesn’t really matter where you’re from. When you venture past the urban boundaries in America, it’s all factories, farms, and amphetamines no matter where you’re at. Elkins happens to be from the small town of Ostego, Michigan, not too far from where the Kellogg’s factories make the air smell like Fruit Loops if the wind is blowing right, and where a hardscrabble blue-collar life is all most people know.
Elkins didn’t set out to become a musician. He wanted to be a welder, and trained to do so. A week before this album was recorded, he was still working his 12-hour welder shifts in Michigan. But a dare to enter a battle of the bands contest had him seeing a different path forward, and an impressed audience goading him along. Next thing you know he’s signed to Dave Cobb’s Low Country Sound/Elektra, and recording with the same guy who helped launch the careers of Myron’s heroes of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Chris Stapleton.
Myron Elkins also grew up listening to Waylon Jennings and George Jones, and picking guitar on the porch with his papaw. But Factories, Farms & Amphetamines takes a decidedly more rock and old school R&B approach overall, and delivers more diversity in the sound than you may expect. Let’s not forget, Motown was birthed in Michigan too, and there is a large sum of that influence mixed into these 10 tracks. At times, it dominates the sound.
You get whiffs of The Allman Brothers and Warren Haynes, maybe Tom Petty as well. But you also get funky rhythms, rounded and watery guitar tones, and slappy bass. If you’re looking for the more country tracks to warm up with, seek out “Wrong Side of the River,” and the title track as well. But even these are only country by approximations. Don’t be fooled by the title of “Nashville Money.” This is the most funky, groove-based jam of the record.
You really are floored that this isn’t the album from some heroin-addicted Muscle Shoals relic that Dan Auerbach or Fat Possum Records pulled out of a shack in Mississippi and propped in front of a microphone to sing his life’s story before he expires in hospice. Some of the time you’re not even sure what the hell Myron Elkins is singing about, but you known it’s damn good.
You also get the sense that Factories, Farms & Amphetamines is just the very beginning, and an auspicious one. Despite the grit and infectiousness, smart guitar tone selections, and solid songwriting, Myron Elkins may have even more and better things in store for the future as he finds more of his own signature sound as opposed to borrowing so heavily, and sometimes, distractedly so from such a wide array of vintage sounds.
One thing’s for sure though, Myron Elkins has “it.” And that “it” would be wasted spending 12 hours a day welding away in Kellogg’s county. What he’s got is fit for the world to hear, and hopefully this album gets it there.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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