[27 March 2014]
It’s a classic image: the songwriter with a broken heart hunkers down with nothing but a guitar and sees very little daylight while he turns his feelings into songs. All too often, those songs shouldn’t be heard by anyone, but sometimes they strike at the heart of the matter in a way that many can identify with. In recent memory, Josh Ritter’s The Beast in its Tracks found Ritter, in the wake of divorce, giving voice to feelings ranging from anger and charity to regret and humor.
The Party Dolls’ Love Wars Baby comes along as a kindred spirit to Ritter’s Beast. Binge-written by leader Drew Beskin (The District Attorneys) in the aftermath of a bad breakup, the album covers the entire relationship landscape, from hopeful beginnings to acrid endings. Throughout it all, though, Beskin seems able to keep things in perspective: things ended badly, but there was some good (and yeah, no small share of bad) along the way, too.
Beskin’s songs might never have seen the light of day if all of the members of the District Attorneys had been available to play a Valentine’s Day show. Instead of turning down the show outright, though, Beskin enlisted Jeremy Wheatley (Crooked Fingers), Tedo Stone, and fellow D.A.‘s Frank Keith IV and Walker Beard to play the songs that would become Love Wars Baby. Beskin liked what he heard and over the course of a year, the Party Dolls and few extra friends recorded the songs at Keith’s home studio.
The end result is a record that obviously benefitted from a lot of care and attention (the way the album’s lead-off track introduces the full-band sound and blossoms with harmonies is a prime example) but which also doesn’t lose its from-the-heart roots. For all the pain that spurred Beskin to start writing, Love Wars Baby feels free and easy. Occasionally, a song might remind you of Ryan Adams (“I’m Not the One You Love”) or Jason Molina (the rousing album-closer “Sweetheart Moon”) but those reference points are fleeting and just serve to help put you in a listening sweet spot. Anyone who’s heard the District Attorneys knows that the band’s songs are a bit of controlled chaos, in that they reference everything from indie rock to gospel to doo-wop. Those same sounds pop up here and there on Love Wars Baby, fleshing out what, for all its full-band sound, is essentially a very personal singer-songwriter record.
Lyrically, Beskin often words things in a way that still maintains some mystery even as he gets the point across. In the gentle “Firecracker”, he sings “You’re no drifter or a castaway / And I’m no time traveling heart escape” and “You’re a tiger with a heavenly sway / My super vision can see years away.” In the more rocking “Indigo”, he offers “So you could go / On an ice road baby right through Indigo / Where I could use a big glass jar of bodily harm.” In “I’m Not the One You Love”, he paints a picture where “the stars were starving to make me feel comfortable / ‘Cause everything was wrong.” Plus, it’s doubtful anyone’s called someone else a “vampire” with as much sweetness and tenderness as Beskin does on “Vampire”.
Beskin might not have originally written the songs that became Love Wars Baby with the intention of anyone ever hearing them, but the end product is a really strong record that only gets better with repeated listens.