[10 February 2014]
Jamestown Revival, it’s all in the name. The L.A.-based duo of Texans Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance place serious emphasis on the latter half of their moniker, their ambitions extending beyond music and into their lifestyles. Well, at least that’s what their website makes it sound like; to quote directly from their bio page (which might be more properly described as a mini-manifesto): “Jamestown Revival is more than music. It’s an idea, and it’s a movement. It’s grass roots, and it’s back porch. Our strength is in numbers, but our individuality is ever present. We appreciate the simpler things, and we know where we came from. We value timelessness over trendiness, and quality over quantity. We are Revivalists…” I so wish that those italics and ellipses were editorializing on my part—because they come across as mystical and hippie-dippie and that is exactly what Jamestown Revival is not.
The point here is: don’t hold that against them. (For that matter, don’t hold their participation in Rolling Stone’s inaugural (and final, it seems) “Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star” 2011 contest against them either.) The fact is that Jamestown Revival rises above the hype—either generated by themselves as so-called “revivalists” or by Rolling Stone’s abortive contest—with a hearty blend of influences from their home state and elsewhere, ranging from Guy Clark to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Gram Parsons. With this wonderful blend of Texas roots rock and L.A. country, Jamestown Revival has been blessed with the ability to lullaby the listener with one song (the soft-stepping “Medicine”) before pulling a sonic punch with the next (“Headhunters”, as much a companion to Ryan Adams’ “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” as I’ve ever heard). Who cares whether or not all this “revival” talk is an actual directive to their listeners or just simply an elaborate PR move? Either way, this is a damn good album.
The most striking thing (among several) about this duo is how gloriously in sync with one another they are. Their harmonies are reminiscent of the Milk Carton Kids, who deploy their vocals with such exactness of tone and cadence that it’s often hard to figure out who is singing what. Clay and Chance manage to sing with similar effect, their tenor voices mixing together so well that it’s hard to pick them apart. When it comes to songs that might fall a little flat sung solo, such as “Heavy Heart”, they can provide an emotional center for the listener to follow.
Influence-wise, Jamestown Revival is all over the place, incorporating everything from soul (“Revival”) to Dixie-fried country (“Wandering Man”), but two influences loom large. One of those is Neil Young, whose sound sneaks into songs like “California (Cast Iron Soul)” and who is even openly acknowledged on “Home” (“I spent a good time killing time / been a miner for a heart of gold”). Another is the aforementioned Ryan Adams, whose rock ’n‘ roll ambitions wonderfully colored early records like Heartbreaker and Cold Roses (ignoring, of course, the infamous New York Dolls reference on “Beautiful Sorta”). Jamestown Revival hits the nail on the head in that regard, turning out a collection of songs that truly lives up to the country-rock label, confidently toeing the line between genres.
The album even has everyone’s favorite recorded-in-a-cabin-somewhere anecdote attached to it, with Clay and Chance retreating to a cabin in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah (hence the album title). While the environment doesn’t bleed into every track, there are hints here and there that lend to the general ambiance, like the bird calls at the start of “Heavy Heart”. More than anything, there’s just a sense that this material has been worked over and over to be as tight as it sounds—and it sounds pretty damn good.