It may seem a bit premature to refer to Prison Book Club as a super group, but, in the context of West Virginia's budding scene, the label is more than appropriate. Made up of guitarist Adam Meisterhans and bassist/vocalist Tucker Riggleman (The Demon Beat), guitarist/vocalist John Miller (The Fox Hunt), and drummer Andrew Ford, the group's lineup justifies itself on its first full-length album.
For fans of alt-country twang (conjuring up the vocals of Lucero meeting the sonics of legends like Old 97s and Thin Lizzy) and lyrics bringing to mind a sad bastard drinking alone on the couch, Prison Book Club is the definitive act (at least from a regional perspective) in its genre.
Miller's lyrics, especially on heartbreakers like "White Plain," make one believe him, even if they might get the sense that he's putting up a front just to restrain the aching that just won't quit:
"You can love me, but you can't save me,
I'm going over that white plain.
She'll be better and I'll forget her,
But I'll never forget that pain."
However, there's still something authentic in Miller's necessary disguising of emotions. He talks openly about the pain of busted relationships, no doubt. Yet, he never quite gives his estranged women the satisfaction of acknowledgement. They'll win and he'll lose, but he'll make for damn sure they'll never know about it entirely.
It may seem a bit unorthodox in relation to the predisposed "tear in your beer" ethic of their pathetically sad alt-country predecessors, but Prison Book Club pulls it off in a way that allows for little argument from even the most discerning of ears.
Miller is a man fighting for his own sanity. The album's set of songs seems to serve as a catharsis by refusing to fully acknowledge the source. When Riggleman takes over vocal duties on "Nothing to Lose" and "Living with Dead" (both might be strangely mistaken for songs played at a '50s prom if it weren't for the crushing lyrical subject matter), it's simply more of the same.
Worth mentioning, still, is the rest of the band. Meisterhans' guitar work is a blend of restraint and cacophonous beauty, hitting arpeggios with grace ("Too Much Livin") and solos with a mindful set of fingertips ("Sons of Heaven"). Ford's drumming is equally exact, allowing for organic build-ups giving way to steady grooves that can't help but to incite dancing, regardless if one just won't be able to get past the heartbreak.