The Everymen’s first record, New Jersey Hardcore, was a scrappy rock record, a celebration of the band’s home state, and a record built on singalong choruses and huge hooks. Givin’ Up on Free Jazz, the group’s new album on Ernest Jennings, doubles down on just about every charm from its predecessor, reveling in pure rock ‘n roll joys while also charting a map through the music of — yet again — New Jersey.
There’s an unabashed romantic side to the Everymen that adds a lot of appeal to their music. This is not stand-offish music. The band wants everyone at the party, wants everyone dancing to this music. This much is clear when ringing guitars and towering horns blast open “A Girl Named Lou Pt. 2”. Catherine Herrick’s voice fills up the group choruses, but she also weaves through the verse with a sultry power, smiling at the crowd as much as she reveals a deep longing. “Spain” starts with acoustic guitar and Mike V’s voice, but when it opens up into a full, swaying rocker and V and Herrick sing back and forth to each other, the song sounds downright triumphant even as it accounts a decaying city and deep loss. That the Everymen can turn the hurt in these songs into buoyant rock anthems is maybe this album’s greatest asset.
The band also moves adroitly through various musical styles. They pare down the rock maximalism on “Fingers Crossed”, thinning out the horns into lean, bleating hooks, while the guitars crunch and Herrick and company use vocal harmonies to turn a sinewy rock tune into an ode to girl-group pop. “All I Need Is You” is a front-porch acoustic number, a faint stomp trailing Mike V’s nearly whispered vocals and shuffling acoustic guitar. “A Thousand Miles” is the band’s best moment here, a huge bluesy rock jam with a blue-light feel. It’s got guitar heroics and under-a-streetlight saxophone vamping and, once again, the thrilling duet work between V and Herrick. It’s a yearning track, another deeply romantic track, and when V sings “Rest your head on my shoulder / Take a breather, we’re almost home”, you can feel both the intimacy and sweet fatigue of the moment. Around V and Herrick’s aching road trip tale, the band fills out the landscape around them with equal parts country dust and city grit.
The band is still deeply tied to New Jersey here, rattling off musicians from the state on “NJNC”, and the sax work and ringing chords can’t help but make you think of the Boss. The hometown ties inject this music with a distinct personality, though the links to Jersey sometimes push a bit into overindulgence. This is most evident on the band’s cover of Springsteen’s “Ain’t Good Enough For You”, from his pop-leaning The Promise, a collection of outtakes from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions. It’s the right kind of Boss song for the Everymen, with its bright horns and open heart, but the band plays it exactly like the original and Mike V — who has his own unique rasp — shifts his vocals into his best Bruce impression. It’s an effective cover, but it also feels like something the Everymen have moved beyond.
The band is a group of rock and pop traditionalists, and they veer from genre to genre well here, adding a zealous size that New Jersey Hardcore didn’t have. So while it’s sometimes disappointing to see them stick too close to home, most of Givin’ Up on Free Jazz is an open and welcome invitation to join them there, to get lost in the feeling good of rock ‘n roll, and to remember the records that made you fall in love with it in the first place, that made you want to make your own version of it.