Warm and Fuzzy
The Pittsburgh-based country/roots rock group Bear Cub has a quirky sense of humor. When played in iTunes, the label the Always Be Down EP gets slapped with in the genre column is “religious”. That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially when you consider the number of times lead singer Jesse Hall utters the word “goddamn” on opener “Cheer Up, Chuck” in true Isaac Brock fashion. In reality, the band mixes a number of genres together, creating a unique and catchy blend of Americana. This is particularly evident on the slippery “Cheer Up, Chuck”, which starts out as a slow tempo, banjo-led bluegrass number, before it layers in more traditional country instrumentation such as a pedal steel guitar, a violin and a mandolin, and sprawls out into a more mid-tempo pace. Then, quickly on a dime, it turns into, believe it or not, a ‘50s style doo-wop ditty before transmuting into a lilting folk song. It’s a mini-epic of a track, all contained in less than five minutes. Is it successful? Not entirely. However, it is interesting to listen to, like listening to a road map of diverse genres expanding out before you. It’s nice to see a band stretch out and explore varying speeds and types of music, especially within one song.
The remainder of Always Be Down is more straightforward. “She Sold Me Shoes” is a quiet, country-flavored track that eventually edges into contemporary pop territory. “Central Time” is a string-drenched acoustic ditty that is quite compelling. “Pulling Me Apart” is a straight-up mid-tempo roots rocker with a hint of soul. “Oh No No” is a jaunty song that is like a slow bluegrass version of something out of the Fleet Foxes canon, sounding too a little like a Civil War ballad gussied up with modern instrumentation. “Don’t Get It Wrong” is a soulful, somewhat bluesy, stab at a deep fried, Southern electric guitar work out. Finally, the title track is a very short (one minute and thirteen second) fragment that rambles along in a simple verse-chorus structure, and Hall winds up sounding like he has a case of blue eyed soul in the guise of Paul Young. With that, the Always Be Down EP is a strong statement from a promising young band with a lot of stylistic influences thrown into the pot. It is a more than agreeable taster for whatever full-length the group has up its sleeve next, and Bear Cub is ultimately a band that will give you warm and fuzzy feelings, leaving you wanting to hear even more.
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