Over five previous albums, the musical evolution of the Kansas duo Moreland & Arbuckle has been fascinating to observe. What began as a dedicated, raw, deep blues unit drenched in Mississippi Delta music has, over five previous offerings and tens of thousands of traveling miles, become a dense, inseparable amalgam of styles, from modern electric and Delta-style blues to roots rock and boogie to Americana and R&B. 7 Cities, their third offering for Telarc, contains several songs that reflect time's passage, the weariness of constant travel, and the consequences of greed -- for experiences, people, and things. New drummer Kendall Newby adds a harder groove to the bottom, forged by Aaron Moreland's cigar box guitars and Dustin Arbuckle's vocals and harmonica; the band also enlists an outside producer for the first time in Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon, the Sword). While the sonics are bigger and there is more stylistic intrigue, blues remain at the heart of everything M & A do. Reliance on originals remains important -- eight of this set's 13 tracks were self-penned. Opener "Quivira" is a raucous electric blues that offers an account of Spanish explorer and conquistador Coronado's search for the mythical seven cities of gold on the Kansas plains. The enormous slide guitar and drum attack is appended by Arbuckle's expressive singing and deft harmonica fills. Roots rock and Americana inform the bridge before the groove returns with menacing urgency. "Tall Boogie" and "Road Blind" nod straight at early ZZ Top and the Red Devils; both offer soaring harmonica, frenetic drumming, and dirty, distorted guitars. "Broken Sunshine," a soulful, hooky rocker, would have previously been unthinkable for this band, but offers Arbuckle's finest vocal underscored by a soaring organ. It reflects the consequences of a rootless inattention to one's life. Acoustic, airy, country blues makes its presence felt in the loping instrumental "Red Bricks," with excellent interplay between Moreland's silvery acoustic slide and Arbuckle's harmonica, while Newby shuffles double time on hi-hat and bass drum. "Bite Your Tongue" is a sinister, snarling, minor-key blues that injects aggressive roots rock into the refrain. The set's biggest surprise is an inventive, souled-out cover of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" that is wonderfully revisioned and executed, and extends the thematic concerns of "Quivaira" and other tracks. While "Waste Away" is a strutting boogie with a melancholy lyric, "Time Ain't Long" weds Americana, blues, and gospel in a deeply emotive, moody meditation on regret. Closer "Modern Boy" bridges both tunes thematically and musically, by fusing a wily, edgy, electric blues to a gospel chorus, replete with a lyric theme expressing acceptance of the inextricable link between historical past and present -- though choice remains for the future. 7 Cities is easily Moreland & Arbuckle's most compelling and ambitious effort. Though many bands evolve, few grow while doing it, and fewer still raise the creativity bar the way this band has.