When Slobberbone called it a day after their last album, nobody could predict what would happen to its members. Lead singer Brent Best did his best to break some new ground with a few solo dates post-Slobberbone, but there wasn’t much in terms of updates as to what the heck was happening. Would it be a solo album? What was going on? Well, needless to say, since I’m writing this now, something has happened. Three-quarters of Slobberbone are back, adding a new bass player and a keyboardist and a new name—The Drams. The band has signed to New West Records, one of the premier champions of roots / Americana / alt.country music. And this record, the new band’s debut, is a lengthy and at times quite stellar effort that moves back and forth from roots rock to Americana, if such a gap or chasm exists between the two.
The 14-track album starts off with a mid-tempo roots rocker that sounds like it was culled from something in the vein of Wilco, the Jayhawks or Golden Smog, with a pinch of early R.E.M., as Best is helped by some great E Street Band-ish keyboards courtesy of keyboardist Chad Stockslager. It’s a huge, grandiose kind of tune that builds and builds with some great musicianship all around. And from that point on, The Drams rarely do anything wrong, with “Hummalong” resembling early Blue Rodeo with a bit more bite or swagger to it. But perhaps the first true highlight comes with the slow, tender and ambling “Holy Moses”, which takes its good old time from start to finish. Not quite a dirge but not quite radio-friendly rock, the song takes a nice country route with some subtle but solid licks underneath Best’s vocals. It could be found on an early Wilco album just as easily as on The Black Crowes Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (minus the murky, swampy hues the Robinson brothers would slap on top of it). They revisit this again, although with a sparser, barren arrangement, on the lovely and wistful “When You’re Tired”.
The Drams’ first shot at radio-friendly fodder comes with the bouncing and slightly ragged rock of “Unhinged”, which resembles a band that has been perfecting this tune into a well-oiled little ditty. The bridge breaks things open somewhat, with more guitars and a faster tempo, but for the most part The Drams are content not to rock the boat too much with this number. The first odd or somewhat quirky tune is the party-flavored “Fireflies”, which is not too fast but brings to mind something Raul Malo or The Mavericks might have success with—a strong track with a catchy little melody to which you’ll find yourself humming along or bobbing your head. The band lets their guard down somewhat, though, with the slightly swinging “You Won’t Forget”, which might have fit perfectly on Wilco’s Summerteeth insomuch that it’s part rock and part Americana. It’s a great song, but it’s the sort of tune they could probably do in their sleep. And the high, summery Californian harmonies don’t add much to the ditty. Fortunately they flesh things out before the song takes a brief detour into a string-laced then keyboard-fuelled jazzy second half and outro.
As the record reaches its homestretch (it’s nearly 70 minutes long after all), The Drams opt for a surefire folksy roots formula with the great “Shortsighted”, which seems to take a cue from Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in terms of arrangement and tone. Best sings about playing various clubs and dives to audiences who don’t really care, but the band is on target with this number. The first clunker, however, is the rather mundane and ordinary “Crudely Drawn”, which fails to distinguish itself from the output of any other other barroom band in Austin. They do atone for this with the rousing and rollicking “Make A Book”, which contains guitar and then more guitar while relying on a simple but hook-filled melody. Another pleaser is the tender, mid-tempo and jangle-y “Des Moines”, which rides a great, deep hook for all its worth. Wrapping with the dreary but hymnal “Wonderous Life” makes this album worth checking out even if you hate everything else. The Drams might not appease all Slobberbone hardcore fans, but this is indeed a more adventurous and thus more rewarding affair.
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// Notes from the Road
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