Seth Martin learned his first chord the same year The Dish Boys released their debut album, ‘Georgia Dish Boys.’ The band’s guitar and violin player, Rob Hibbs taught Martin the E minor while the two were hanging out in an old canvas mining tent in Alaska. That was almost five years ago. Since then, Seth Martin & The Dish Boys have toured across the country and back six times, released seven albums, and somehow have not wound up dead in the process. This February marks one year since the Athens, GA based band played a live show. In the last four years, Martin and the band climbed on stage over three hundred times in every part of the country from Athens to Eugene. “Looking back at all the lessons learned and all the people met along the way, I’m happy to say, it’s all been a damn blessing,” Martin says of those early days.
‘The Golden Book of Favorite Songs,’ is an offering to all those people and all those lessons. Thirty recordings that chronologically span six studio albums from the last four years- all the band’s favorite songs under one roof. With so many releases in such a short span of time and with each album contrasting the next, this new compilation serves as a guide through the growth of a young, but prolific and focused group of artists.
The retrospective begins with a rarely heard, psychedelic fiddle track, “Mr. Chapman,” from the band’s 2016 debut album, ’Georgia Dish Boys.’ Rob Hibbs’ bow bending solos and staccato plucks take the listener through a darkly tinged ramble as Martin recites a poem, “how ya get a red mango, off a green leaf, comin’ from a brown tree, growin’ outta black dirt? It’s beautiful.” Rob’s brother, Garrett Hibbs, drones sweet and subtly strong bass notes throughout the song, holding down Martin’s warbly vocals. Recorded in a makeshift home studio by Rob, the band’s first album has all the makings of a clubhouse hangout with everything from hand claps, mandolin solos, to steel slide.
Within less than a year the band added drummer, Scot Underwood, and turned up the volume for their second album and first time in a real studio with 2017’s, ‘Get Gone.’ The collection was recorded at Nuci’s Space’s Amplify Studios and engineered by Chris Byron, co-engineer of the late, great Brute collaboration with Widespread Panic and Vic Chesnutt. Early reviews of the record likened the sound to “Lynyrd Skynyrd playing a Sonic Youth song”. Complete with a boat load of feedback, yelled lyrics, dimed out amps, gorgeously sloppy yet biting solo work, and a satirically humorous lyrical anger, listeners could feel the punk from a mile away. The visceral chorus on the grungy standout track, ‘Significance’ asks a question on the removal of confederate statues, white washing in schools, and greedy politicians, “what is the significance?”
The band’s next album, ‘Nine Song Movie,’ released in 2018 was also recorded at Nuci’s Space with Byron behind the board. With Eric Zock now on drums, Tyler Key on pedal steel, and Mark Plemmons on keys, the band’s playing and Martin’s songwriting began to mature with increasingly poignant lyrical themes and beautifully textured arrangements. ‘Nine Song Movie,’ is the sonic narrative of Martin’s creative influences as well as the band’s willingness to evolve from record to record. Band favorite “Heartworn Highways” is a nine minute track recalling Martin’s songwriting heroes. The anthemic chorus of the song asks, “why don’t we all be ourselves and do the best we can”-a sentiment that guides the band through their creative lives.
The Dish Boys’ fourth album, ‘Good Country Livin,’ released in 2019 is the sunniest, patchwork quilt in the band’s growing catalog. Named as one of KEXP’s, “Best Albums of 2019” by Greg Vandy, the album marks the first time the band took a step into the national spotlight. Deciding to record on his parents’ porch in rural Elbert County, GA, Martin said, “we’d been out on the road for so long and stretched so thin that coming home and doing this record with family around felt like the thing that needed to happen.” Celebrating themes of work, family relationships, and small town life, “Put My Records On,” is a stoner country earworm combining piano, pedal steel, and barn party harmonies.
The band’s fifth album, ‘Suitcase of Life’ was recorded at legendary Athens studio, Chase Park Transduction. Released in June of 2020 the record is the band’s first time pressing long player vinyl. Enlisting fellow Athenian, Henry Barbe to facilitate the eccentric one day recording process complete with audio snippets from life on the road, loud punk jams, and fingerpicked lullabies- the album boasts just how far the band has come. ‘HWY 1,’ an artful sound collage, begins with a scanning radio, fuzzily cutting in and out before howling guitars slam the song into break neck country grunge wonder. Reminiscent of their rowdy punk days, Martin and the band are in rare form here.
The Dish Boys’ second album of 2020, ‘Sending Out My Love,’ was recorded at legendary Shoal Creek Music Park with rural music hero, Zeke Sayer. The park, located in Lavonia, GA, about an hour outside Athens, has been perfectly preserved and turned into a recording studio dubbed Gypsy Farm. This album is “the fastest we’ve ever gone from not knowing the songs to a finished record,” according to Martin. Due to the limitations of the pandemic, only two rehearsals were done to prepare for recording the album. Gypsy Farm session ace and bass player of long time Athens favorites, Elf Power and The Humms, Matt Garrison joined the band for the session and lent a polished, psychedelic hand to the collection. Title track, “Sending Out My Love” features Martin’s piano debut and that characteristic earnest vulnerability fans have come to identify with the band. The lyric, “don’t want to go back how it was because that wasn’t working for all of us,” is a theme that reverberates through the entire album.
‘The Golden Book of Favorite Songs’ is a sonic gift to all Dish Boys fans. Spanning almost five years, six studio albums, and ferocious eative growth, the retrospective is the story of “the hardest working band in Athens” finding its roots and truly defining the word prolific. ‘The Golden Book of Favorite Songs’ serves as a guide through the tapestry of southern music and points toward a wide open future for a band that never rests.