[22 November 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Coal Men, like their name implies, are a kind of working man’s band. The group, started by frontman Dave Coleman in 1999, have been grinding it out on the road for years and cranking out albums to give them new tunes to truck out onto the stage. Their latest is Escalator, a collection of road-weary rock tunes that could fill up the space in any barroom in Anytown, USA. It’s full of crowd-pleasing rockers such as “Last Goodbye” or “Role Model”, epic breakdowns like “Better Than” or the towering solos of “Old Friends”, and it’s not afraid to kick up a more countrified dust on “Tennessee”.
If there’s a variety to this album, it feels more like the logic of a setlist than an album’s progression. The reason is because these all feel like bar-band tropes done well but anonymously. These songs have the kind of hooks, crunching chords and shout-along choruses to reel you in, but not enough genuine personality to keep you there. Escalator, in the end, is more devoted to filling up stage time, to pleasing an established audience, than it is to treading new ground, or even telling us who the Coal Men are. They’re hard working, that much is true, though what they’re building with all that labor is less certain.