One of rock and roll’s great debates is whether to burn out or fade away. There’s a third option, though. Buffalo Tom make the point that it is possible for rock and roll to mature gracefully while still maintaining an edge.
In that light there is a certain irony to the group’s latest release titled “Quiet and Peace.” The album is not really quiet or peaceful. Sure, the songs here aren’t quite the fevered sonic blasts by which the band introduced themselves nearly thirty years and nine albums ago. Yet the power trio still know how to infuse their music with a raw urgency. Songs like “Lonely, Fast and Deep”, “All Be Gone” and “Least That We Can Do” crackle with a guitar-driven intensity. Even those that lean towards ballads, such as “Overtime”, “In the Ice” and “Slow Down” still maintain a welcome musical insistence.
One constant in the group’s history has been the energy and angst of their lyrics. The difference this time around is that they do so with a matured reflection. The songs on Quiet and Peace ruminate on their own life experience, on their children and spouses and people that they’ve encountered in their lives. “Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead,” sings Bill Janovitz on album opener “All Be Gone.” He later counsels “when the weight of expectation sinks you down… just hold on to yourself.”
They often surround these perspectives with rich visual imagery, from the ocean to the mountains and other scenes from the New England landscape. “Least That We Can Do“ is particularly vivid:
Northeastern climate, knees by the fireplace
Windows’ dim light shining through
Sunset like Rothko, up to Vermont we go.
It’s the least that we can do
They close the album proper with a magnificent cover of Paul Simon’s “Only Living Boy in New York.” The group’s version fits perfectly – both musically and lyrically – alongside the album’s ten originals.
I’m convinced that Barrence Whitfield could sing the alphabet and make it sound good. Solo and with the Savages, the singer has shuffled through numerous genres over the years. He is most in his element, however, when playing gritty rock-based R&B. And that’s exactly what you’ll find here. Whitfield and the Savages unleash a new collection of songs that hearkens back to the roots of rock and roll, when the songs were gritty and meant to get audiences filling sweaty dance floors. The guitar-driven arrangements Soul Flowers of Titan have just the right amount of abrasiveness as Whitfield sings and shouts with abandon.
I tend to not like comparing one artist to another but it’s almost unavoidable here. Buckley’s Las Cruces plays like a long lost Neil Young and Crazy Horse album.
This is a driving album, both figuratively and literally, that surges with a combination of wanderlust and exasperation. “On the way back to Bakersfield, you just cried, I just steered,” he sings on the growling opening track “Bakersfield.”
Like a 1-2 punch, it’s followed by the unrelenting motorcycle anthem “Old Glory.” “They whip and rip along the highway like Old Glory used to do,” Buckley wails.
The one respite from the guitar onslaught is the acoustic and pedal steel-laced ballad “Consuela,” the figurative close to “side 1”. It continues the highway theme, this time in the context of a relationship:
When we first met
You had some miles on you
I did too
We weren’t looking for the miles we’d seen
Were looking for where else this road could lead
Then, as soon as that respite concludes, the electric guitars kick back in on the scorching “Three Chiefs” and roar through side two. From start to finish, Las Cruces is filled with guitars are fiercely ragged and melodies are tantalizingly sharp. Classic rock, in all its glory, is alive and well in Buckley’s capable hands.
Mark Erelli runs with a good crowd, having shared his guitar-playing skills with the likes of Lori McKenna and Josh Ritter. Yet this success often masks his individual skill as an artist and performer. Mixtape, his latest solo release, is a reminder of his impressive talent.
As the album title implies, this is a covers album. Some of Erelli’s choices fit well with his Americana style (The Band’s “Ophelia”; Neko Case’s “Deep Red Bells”) while others are adapted to fit his approach (The 1984 duo of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” and Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds”). In both cases, Erelli’s rootsy charm and expressive voice carry the day.
Not surprisingly, many of Erelli’s friends join him for this fun musical outing. His take on the Band’s “Ophelia” is especially enjoyable, with Sam Kassirer’s piano and Jake Armerding’s fiddle giving the song immense character. Mixtape is one heck of an enjoyable listen.
Matthew Stubbs debut album is as muscular as it is diverse. The all instrumentals album stretches the psychedelic “Dancing with the Bulls” to the surf rock “Tarantino” to the self-explanatory “Dub Stubbs.” Stubbs and crew infuse every track with a heaviness that, rather than weigh things down, gives the songs depth and gravitas. None moreso that the bruising opening track, aptly titled “Fistful.”
Instrumentals can be tough, especially for melody-driven listeners like me who appreciate strong melodies. Stubbs and crew demonstrate how to do it right with this melody driven collection of sonic gems.
Tree of Life is an album lost in time. Coman strikingly evokes the definitive early years of rock and roll when blues, boogie, folk and country came together to create a new musical sound. Backed by a top notch group of musicians, Coman shifts effortlessly from the bluesy “Don’t Reach” and “Trouble #2” to the light soulful shuffle of “Rock When I Roll” to the gentle acoustic folk of album closer “Let It Ring.”
Overall the collection is steeped in backwoods rock and stomp, heavy on percussive dance floor-ready grooves. The melodies have a simplicity that makes them immediately accessible and catchy.
Despite the title of their latest EP, my money says that Watts are anything but done. Once you’ve been infected with rock and roll, you’re addicted for life. The group kicks off their latest EP with a song that somehow marries Beach Boys surfing harmonies with Cheap Trick power pop with magical results. The harmonies take a back seat on the next track, the bruising “Hi Definition,” before making their return on “Sunlight Alleys.” They close out the EP by following their own advice on the raucous “Tear It Up.” A little shimmer, a little swagger and a whole lot of guitars make this one hell of a rock and roll outing.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.