Shurman says that they grew up with Tom Petty and a myriad of other credible roots rockers that helped craft their sound. But the line between paying tribute to them with fine music and citing them as an influence so you can go and manufacture some semblance of a similar style is very thin. And if you were to judge this album on the first minute of this album’s opening track, “Drownin’”, the crisp, clean sound and overly-produced smooth flow makes it sound like a roots rocker, but on closer inspection you feel a bit let down. “The air is getting thinner”, lead singer Aaron Beavers sings, while the guitars churn out one quasi-crunchy Etheridge-like riff after another. Yet it just doesn’t seem to hit you in the gut immediately, which is often the litmus test. It’s a good attempt, but just doesn’t seem to make the grade, sounding almost too forced. When they don’t press things they seem more at home, especially during the mid-tempo toe-tapping “Red Eyes” that veers down a country path. Lead guitarist Jason Moore also does a yeoman’s job on the number.
It seems that the less aggressive the band is in trying to nail down the perfect tone, pitch, and sound, the better off they fare musically. This is indicated clearly in the lovable “Impossibilities”, with its windswept feel and “alt.country” flavor, something like a cross between Son Volt and Golden Smog. Beavers nails the tune ideally while letting Moore carry the tune well past the chorus. This continues on the harmonica-laced, Steve Earle-ish “Petty Song”, which, well, I guess is an overt tribute to Petty. But the only song that this resembles in Petty’s collection might be the alternate version of “The Apartment Song” he did with Stevie Nicks on the Playback box set—a mid-tempo, feel-good ditty in no hurry to finish. “We couldn’t get the keys but we sure could sing along”, Beavers sings about his love for the Florida rocker’s body of work.
“Los Angeles Americana”, as they coin the scene they come from, is a good phrase for describing “So Happy”, which is a track that Counting Crows might do if they were working honky tonk bars. It’s a safe, country-tinged track, but with enough soul to make it interesting. But they let their hair down (assuming they’re not follicle-challenged of course!) with the rowdier “I Got You (Part 3)”, a fine effort that sounds like Petty and his Heartbreakers jamming on an old-school, live-from-the-floor, rave-up romper. Fresh and quite lively, the tune jumps out at you in a way not seen yet on the record. This leads brilliantly into the slower and morose “Jubilee”, which comes across like something the Cash Brothers might explore more of.
Shurman gets rowdier from time to time and they don’t use it often enough, as “Tonight I’m Drinking” has its spots but often plays it too safe during the verses and chorus. The stab at Tex-Mex falls to the curb, however, pushing the envelope over the edge. The group, which also includes drummer Damon Allen and bassist Keith Hanna, does a solid job meshing together to fleshing out the standard roots pop-meets-rock of “Stay”, which is a ragged, rougher version of something the Gin Blossoms might polish to the extreme. They conclude with a part that you know is coming but doesn’t quite measure up to the overall groove and feel.
“Down” is the tender, reflective roots tune that is part of any album worth its wares. Beavers doesn’t overplay it vocally or lyrically, although he sings about looking back and talking about the future. “We’re all going to go someday /Just hope it’s not now”, he sings while a guitar strums along to the melody. It brings to mind a Southern track the Wallflowers might have a go at. Shurman isn’t exactly a sure bet, but this album makes them one step closer to being pretty damn close.
// Notes from the Road
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