Mike and the Moonpies’ New Album Is One You’d Give to Martians to Understand ‘Country Music’

Last month, Mike and the Moonpies made their debut at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium as part of a three-band bill of Red Dirt stalwarts including Jason Boland and Reckless Kelly. Despite going on first, Mike Harmeier and co. found the Ryman’s pews full and the crowd at attention. The fans knew what’s up: The band with the proudly goofy name is too hot to miss.

For those that weren’t at that gig, a new live album from the Moonpies dropped today. Recorded last year at the Devil’s Backbone Tavern in Fischer, Texas, it’s a thrilling document of a country band at the top of their game. How they made it this far, however, is anyone’s guess. Like every other musician who makes their actual living on the road, they suffered through the fallow times of the pandemic, doing so — then and now — as an independent act without any label support. Three of its members — Harmeier, guitarist Catlin Rutherford, and steel ace Zach Moulton — also lost their fathers in the course of a year. Coarsely put, it’s been a shitty road.

You can hear Harmeier stare it all down at the midpoint of Live From the Devil’s Backbone when the band punches their way through “Danger,” a road-weary tale from the album they cut at Abbey Road Studios in London, 2019’s Cheap Silver & Solid Country Gold.” “I’ve lost love and I’ve cursed the man above/But I’m still here,” Harmeier growls, teeing up a dramatic pause that’s full of equal parts sorrow and defiance. “And so are you!”

That “come and take it” spirit is all over the live record. On “Paycheck to Paycheck,” they dare you to stop their momentum — and that’s just the show opener. By the time they reach “Road Crew,” the best salute to stage grunts since Motörhead’s “(We Are) The Road Crew,” they’re barreling nonstop like truckers on pills, led by the lockstep groove of drummer Taylor Englert and wild-eyed bassist Omar Oyoque.  


But it’s the one-two combo of “Beaches of Biloxi” and “Steak Night at the Prairie Rose” that, like at that Ryman Auditorium show, best capture the Moonpies’ moxie. The former is a bet-the-farm-and-lose-it narrative of gambling on the Gulf Coast that nonetheless feels euphoric, while “Steak Night” is a eulogy to a lost parent written when everyone’s dads were still with them. Now, it’s even more poignant, a reminder to hold on tight.

We’re living in a banner time for bands in country music. On any given night, groups from all facets of the genre — Turnpike Troubadours, Midland, the Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke, American Aquarium, Shane Smith and the Saints, and Joshua Ray Walker and Vandoliers (with whom the Moonpies will headline Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa in December) — can each remind you why there’s little better than country songs played live in a bar. Put Mike and the Moonpies high up on that list.