Too Legit to Quit
Roots rock. It’s a genre that seems almost 100% blacklisted by any big-time rock radio stations. Sure, there’s Train and that whole Drops of Jupiter album, but come on. They’re about as interesting as the gum you find on the bottom of your shoe. Sure, it sticks well, but it gets really annoying in the end. Besides, there’s nothing really rootsy about their brand of music other than the fact that the lead singer has a twang in his voice, and that hardly counts for much these days since Nashville’s turned all Hollywood pop on us.
So what’s a band like Philadelphia’s Boxcars supposed to do about all this? I’d say just lay back and play the music. Their latest release Crossing is the kind of album that should be getting a fair shake all over this great nation, but probably won’t because there’s no immediate “hit single” to jump out and grab you, and perhaps the guys in the band aren’t very slick-looking. Oh well. Let the big cheeses miss out yet again on something that’s sitting right in front of their collective faces and contains ten times the amount of talent that groups like Train try to sound like they have.
The band features Matt McGrath on lead guitars and vocals, Paul Edelman on bass and vocals, Dan Roberts on rhythm guitars and vocals, Brian Samson on drums, and Amber deLaurentis on organ, piano and tambourine. Dig it. It’s a well-stocked band that plays well-stocked songs. The first three opening cuts here, “Gone to Fall”, “Half Parted”, and “She’s Losing Ground” can often remind one of Dylan when he was recording his “Wild Mercury Sound” with the likes of the Band and Al Kooper. In fact, it’s deLaurentis’ organ playing that pipes a whole lot of soulfulness into the Boxcar’s sound. And the lyrics have a nice, strong flavor about them as well. When McGrath sings “Everybody knows when it’s gone to fall / Apples fall around your feet / Seeds in the street mark the crossing” (“Gone to Fall”), the listener is met with a host of vivid images that remain striking after the umpteenth play.
However, sometimes the songs just don’t really go anywhere. Both “Bootstraps” and “Roll Me” tend to get a bit listless while they amble along in their twang and strum. On the latter tune, McGrath’s voice seemingly gives out on him in a couple of spots, which doesn’t help matters any. Luckily, things get back on track with the terrific “Before You Leave.” I just wish that sometimes the guitars weren’t mixed so loud. Producer Edan Cohen does a pretty fine job through most of these songs, but every now and then the vocals take a back seat to the guitars, which get a bit too loud—as, for instance, on “All Torn Apart”.
However, on “Strong Waters”, the Boxcars do their best imitation of the countrified Rolling Stones, and it works like magic. Terrific riffs, gruff vocals, and a strong sense of rhythm and beat allow the band to swing their melodies with a mighty crunch (take that, Train). Crossing then cools its engines with the quieter “N. Broad” and “Police Song” before turning out its most countrified moment in the closing “The Ballad of Buffalo Creek”.
For the most part, Crossing is an enjoyable spin through the twangier side of rock. While a couple of the songs could be trimmed or tweaked, and the mix could be changed in places, these are minor qualms. If nothing else, the Boxcars prove they’re capable of throwing down both soulful heartbreak tales and tough rock that could hold its own against any more commercialized version of their sound on the radio. Perhaps one of these days they’ll get their chance. Until then, enjoy the group’s sound whenever you like on Crossing.