Tractor Kings
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Tractor Kings


Band Americana Rock


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"Sunday Night"

Tractor Kings | Sunday Night (Mud / Parasol)
Had history dictated that The Velvet Underground formed in a backwoods Tennessee community rather than New York City, then it is likely that they may have ended up sounding like Tractor Kings. The sound that this Champaign / Urbana, Illinois duo have conjured up for their debut album is pure American Gothic – a compelling and disturbing rumble of noise that owes as much to the traditions and restless spirits of the forests and mountains, as it does to the grime and dangers of the city. Sunday Night belongs to drummer Rebecca Rury, propelling it along as she does with steady Mo Tucker pudda-pudda toms and pinging cymbals on those that romp, and rolling simply and effectively around her basic kit on the few slowies. Singer, guitarist and lyricist Jacob Fleischli (who from the inner-sleeve shot appears to be the tallest man on earth) is possessed of a voice akin to Dylan addicted to horse tranquillizers – a drunken drawl as if he can only just be bothered. Joined here by Matt Filippo on bass and Casio, Norm Vidoni on mandolin and Joe Stover on violin, Fleischli and Rury have produced a trippy, ramshackle debut of intrigue and promise. Lyrically, it’s common ground for all things country – addiction, lost loves, death and despair – but it’s the woozy, fuzzy, almost oppressive production employed by Stover – approaching No-Fi - that breaks a certain amount of new ground here in the realms of roots-based American music. Fascinating stuff from the block’s latest cellar dwellers.
Tom Sheriff
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001
- comes with a smile

"Tractor Kings: Gone to Heaven"

Tractor Kings: Gone to Heaven
By Jason MacNeil 19 September 2003
There shall be another fine band in or Americana circles, and that band is by far the Tractor Kings. Resembling an early and pre-accident Dylan mixed with Wilco, lead singer Jacob Fleischli shines on the title track, an gem containing Dylan’s twang—so much so that it makes one ask if it’s the real legend or not. R.M. Racky’s pedal steel guitar is integral to the tune’s flow and direction as the tune talks about getting something one needs. It also contains a great sway thanks to some fine harmonica playing. “Side by Side” has that train-rolling Travelling Wilburys tempo to it, except it’s basically only a third of the way finished by the time it actually finishes.

“Take Me Back” has enough guitar feedback to bring Wilco to mind circa Summerteeth, particularly “Via Chicago”. The Tweedy-cum-Westerberg feeling resembles a night on the town and coming back with this hazy tune in your head. “If you were any younger you wouldn’t know me at all / I climbed up your tree is all I got to see”, the song goes as the acoustic guitar is constantly strummed like early ‘60s folk songs. Fleischli is the real deal here and one can discern this early and often. The polka-tempo to “Buried in the Sky” is an eclectic experiment that at times goes off into a bland bar band feel early on. But the Velvet Underground-meets-Johnny Cash arrangement is a fine meshing of influences. It’s one of the many highlights on this record, though, despite it’s rough opening. “Was I your friend for just a while / You know you make me wanna die”, he sings as ethereal organs or strings can be heard in the distance.

“My Little Cousin” works a wonderful guitar path, making the listener wonder why they haven’t heard of the band prior or this gorgeous tune. The jangle of the guitar resembles the late ‘60s and the Velvets as Fleschli sings, “that poor little fellow meant so much to me”. The bridge is just as solid, although it ebbs back a bit to bring Blue Rodeo to mind. “Little Moses” is eerily Dylan-esque, recalling possibly “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”. The Biblical references and the turns of phrase have to be the song’s selling point by far. It also possesses that Irish or Celtic toe-tapping nature deep within it. It’s the type of tune you might find yourself replaying just prior to its conclusion (as I’ve done on a few occasions). “Never Lonely” only ups the musical ante, a blending of old-time ‘50s country, yet with the guitar riffs of most Americana groups. This is probably proof that The Tractor Kings are the real deal—a mix of alt. country but with enough hooks and catches to grab any listener of the genre in their fine web.

“Goodnight” is probably the record’s only mistake, but not because of its quality. The murky and dark country sound is perfect for the ending, bringing to mind some Replacement albums, particularly All Shook Down. The guitars get a little ornery around the two-minute mark, but it’s not to the point of distortion or annoyance. “I’m free up on my hill”, Fleschli sings as the ‘50s-style guitar weaves in and out of the lovable tune. The closing “My Old Ways Are Gone” opens with some spacey and ambient Eno-like affects. It could be mistaken for Eno’s contribution to the soundtrack for the motion picture Trainspotting early on before the vocals make their mark. This album restores your faith that music can still be made without suits being involved. - pop matters

"Gone To Heaven -"

On Gone to Heaven, guitarist and vocalist Jacob Fleischli regrouped the Tractor Kings in order to record at Matt Talbott's Great Western Record Recorders Studio in Tolono, IL, a town where Fleischli's ancestors settled after immigrating to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1880s. The energy Fleischli took from recording there resulted in a complex and bittersweet collection of stripped-down folk songs on Gone to Heaven, the group's second disc on Mud Records. The title track kicks things off with a feverish harmonica, a slew of guitars, and Fleischli's undeniable Bob Dylan-influenced lyrics and performance. The barrage of lyrics on "Side By Side" is then followed by the gloomy air of "Take Me Back" and "Buried in the Sky." The serenade of poetry on "Beautiful Night" brings the disc to its halfway point, while the pace picks up on the poignant "My Little Cousin." An acoustic cover of A.P. Carter's "Little Moses" is next, and is followed by the ambitiously optimistic "Never Lonely." The sadness and splendor of "Goodnight" then gives way to the final track, the ambiguous and multi-layered "My Old Ways Are Gone." Despite often covering heavy-hearted themes, Fleischli was able to create a well-balanced and philosophical album with Gone to Heaven. This time around, the Tractor Kings included bassist Matt Filippo, drummer Angie Heaton, and guitarist Steve Ucherek. Talbott appears on guitar, vocals, and tambourine, while R.M. Racky plays pedal steel guitar and Lyle Hodges provides the synthesizer. Mud Records released the disc in summer 2003. -

"Homesick Review -"

The Tractor Kings broke up and reunited with so many members coming and going over the years, it'd exhaust this review's allotted word count and your patience just to try to catalog it. Suffice to say, head King Jake Fleischi's been around the block a few times.
He learned a lot in his metaphorical travels. Homesick, The Tractor Kings' third full-length, blends psychedelic rock and alt-country like doing that isn't the most unnatural thing in the world. It's a blend of ingredients that lets the Tractors skirt around both genres' shortcomings: There's never any of that outdated alt-country Golden Era-nostalgia nor any of the cutesy psychedelic monkey business on Homesick. It's like Ryan Adams finally found a drug to make him interesting.
Not that The Tractor Kings are too invested in alt-country notions. Homesick benefits from the informal, backyard feel of roots-rock and Americana, while Fleishci and his current batch of backers are raised on the staples of '60s psychedelia and rock. The trio plugs away at traditional alt-country in "Crooked Miles" and "Masters of War," but plugs into the reverb and effects pedals that render it into a hazy psychedelic treat. Thanks to the careful use of a flange pedal, "Black Hole in My Heart" transforms from a tear-in-beer moaner into a tripped-out tune that truly deserves the "space cowboy" tag. "See You Again" falls back on '60s guitar pop, with Fleishci picking his way through the rubble of do-wop left out to rust in some heartland pasture.
If The Tractor Kings are able to keep their sound so refined and characteristic, who cares if they take five years each time to make a record? Who cares if Fleischi fires his whole band six or seven times and replaces them with robots built from scrap parts? Why should we worry what happens behind the scenes with The Tractor Kings? A sound like this has already proven able to overcome mismanagement in its past. Mismanagement in its future shouldn't be a big deal either.

-Ryan Diaz, -, ryan diaz

"Tractor Kings - Homesick"

Still staking their claim to the elusive land where alt-country and shoegaze overlap, the Tractor Kings have returned after a five-year layoff with their third album, 2008's Homesick. Leader, vocalist, and guitarist Jake Fleischli has joined forces with a new guitarist for this set, Johnny "Chemical" Davidson, and between them they conjure a thick cloud of neo-psychedelic sounds over Fleischli's tunes. This music sounds at once trippy and organic, rooted in the melodic traditions of country music but with enough jangle, fuzz, feedback, and effects box manipulation to take this music someplace the Bottle Rockets or Old 97's wouldn't dream of going (though the Volebeats might consider it). Bassist Aaron McCallister and drummer Josh Lucas nudge the performances along with an easygoing patience on songs like "Black Hole in My Heart" and "At Sea," while turning up the tempo on the livelier (and more traditional-sounding) "Never Comin' Back" and "Saddest Day" (two numbers where Fleischli's vocal resemblance to Jeff Tweedy is especially clear). Fleischli's songs clearly respect the traditions of country and twang-oriented pop, and the ten new originals here are quite good (and suit this band better than the cover of Dylan's "Master of War"), but it's what happens when Fleischli and Davidson begin playing with the frameworks and let their guitars do the talking that Homesick really takes off, and this is that very rare album that might actually have been improved if the band had been encouraged to jam a bit more. As it is, Homesick is still impressive and engaging music, and hopefully the Tractor Kings won't have to wait another half decade before recording their next effort. - allmusic


Music available on iTunes and Spotify.

Homesick: 2008

Gone to Heaven: 2003

Sunday Night: 2001



Tractor Kings were formed in 1998. Many years, three albums, and many lineup changes later they still play shows in the midwest. They've shared stages with artists like Crooked Fingers, Jeff Tweedy, Robbie Folks, The Bottle Rockets, The Black Angels and many others.