[17 March 2009]
Armed with an increasingly long list of accolades for their energetic live show, Underneath the Owl is ostensibly an excuse for Denton, Texas, five-piece the Riverboat Gamblers to hit the road with some fresh material, but damned if these guys haven’t started to learn the pleasures of studio rattery. Owl splits the difference neatly, keeping the fanbase happy while still pushing the ball forward. Side A is all the big, obvious, high-sheen rock, meant to be heard blasting out of speakers in a sweaty dive bar, but it’s stuff that tends to mash together in the haze of a few PBRs. Side B, tho, while hardly a sea change, shows a willingness to grow and experiment. “Robots May Break Your Heart” sounds like a rejected Flaming Lips or Grandaddy EP title, but the band’s fearless enough to go ahead with the song anyway, and toss in some xylophone and a robotic guitar riff over lyrics like “flesh is flawed, you know it’s true”. Hey, at least it’s different, as is the steel guitar that anchors the relationship-as-film metaphor “The Tearjerker”. The breakneck “Keep Me From Drinking” boasts a Guitar Hero-worthy solo from lead guitarist Fadi Eli-Assad, and closer “Victory Lap” plays like a post-millennial “Danny Says” and captures the blur of life on tour better than any ode-to-the-road tune these ears have heard lately. Until the Gamblers blow into your town, stick with Side B.