Red dirt rockers No Justice are again making country music the main dish on the menu these days.
After trying out a more rock sound on the 2010 album “Second Avenue,” the Stillwater-based band serves up a return to form with its new album “America's Son,” released last month via Smith Music Group.
“Basically, that last album, going more rock, was just kind of an experiment. You know, just something to kind of do to say you've done it, and we learned from it. I mean, it did shape our career a little bit, the way we took some good things from it,” said lead singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist Steve Rice.
“But when it's all said and done, you know, that kind of more rocking music is not what the majority of our crowd wants to hear. They're going to a country venue; you know, they want to hear country music. You can only push the other, the alternative, down their throats so much.
“I feel like it's kind of like serving Chinese food at an Italian restaurant: They may like the dish, but they didn't really come here for it,” he added with a laugh.
With “America's Son,” the band returns the country sound to the entree role, and on Friday, the hard-touring red dirt outfit will return to a favorite home-state venue: the Wormy Dog Saloon.
“I was playing the Wormy Dog back when it was in Stillwater and ... it's just kind of a tradition. It's just kind of our home base whenever you talk about a music venue in Oklahoma. That's pretty much as good as it gets,” Rice said in a recent phone interview.
“We're starting to actually break into a lot of new territory: We've got some shows up north and on the East Coast. And it's been real cool getting to see some different areas that we haven't seen thus far throughout our career.”
The decade-old band has a new lineup on “America's Son” and on the road these days, with keyboard player Bryce Conway and singer/bassist Justin Morris joining Rice, singer/guitarist Cody Patton and drummer Armando Lopez. Guitarist Jerry Payne, who founded the group, has assumed a managerial role.
“When Bryce came on board ... it kind of broadens just what you can do with all the songs,” Rice said. “With Justin, another thing we started doing again is writing within the band. Usually, I would write the songs or cowrite ‘em with somebody outside of the band. But on this last record, Justin and I wrote quite a few of the songs ... so that's been kind of cool.”
With Conway on the keys, the band revived an old fan favorite, “Don't Walk Away,” into a plaintive piano duet that reunited No Justice with Rebecca Lynn Howard, who sang on “Second Avenue” and provided harmony vocals on a few other “America's Son” tracks.
“That song got requested a lot, but it just kind of got pushed back in our set list and we just hadn't done it in awhile. When we revisited that, it kind of got a second wind ... and it definitely rejuvenated that song for everybody,” Rice said.
“Whenever you're in studio, you can kind of do some different things. That was something that I just felt those songs needed a female vocal ... and I think it kind of makes the songs.”
Producer Dexter Green (Collective Soul) introduced the band to songstress Elizabeth Cook, who mingles voices with Rice on the twangy traveling tune “Songs on the Radio.” After a chance encounter with Jason Isbell at a Hayes Carll concert, Rice invited the Drive-By Truckers musician to lend his slide guitar and backing vocals to the album's first single, the raucous “Never Gonna Be Enough,” which proves No Justice indeed learned from its rock experimentation.
“It's just kind of cool getting other musicians to be a part of it just ‘cause it just kind of gives that extra special touch to the record that I think fans can appreciate as well as the artists ourselves. You know, it's cool being able to work with different musicians and you can take some inspiration from those sessions that you have with them,” Rice said. “It just kind of gets you out of your element a little bit.”
Still, Rice said he is happy the band is back in its country element with “America's Son.”
“It feels a little better ... ‘cause that's kind of how we were raised and it's easier to write from that perspective. I think just the whole state of mind and the content and everything like that, it just comes pretty easy,” he said.
“It was a cool experience and I'm glad we did it, but we probably won't do a more rocking record again.”