The opening song on Now Is the Time is not just a celebration; it’s an anthem. Filled to the brim with hope, solidarity, and fighting impossible odds, the title “We Battle Giants” essentially gives away the plot before you even hear a note of music. With their standard instrumental building blocks of driving acoustic guitar, cello, and percussion, Bandits on the Run unfurl a song that’s an ode to diving into life headfirst, taking down the bad guys, and climbing mountains simply because they’re there.
“You’re adventurous / And curious / And wonder what the top of every mountain looks like,” sings Regina Strayhorn, followed by the intoxicating harmonies of the line “I follow you to great heights.” It’s a wonderful, instantly catchy song, aided largely by the folky, almost Celtic nature of the arrangement. It’s this kind of exotic musical hybrid that puts the song in the same league as genre-busting classics as “Come on Eileen” and “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles”. It’s that good.
Fortunately, the rest of the songs on Now Is the Time measure up as well. Joining Strayhorn (who also plays accordion, melodica, glockenspiel, and percussion) and rounding out the trio are Adrian Blake Enscoe on guitar and percussion and Sydney Shepherd on cello. It’s an odd assortment of instrumentation, but the noisy, celebratory indie-folk they conjure up makes for an experience that’s equal parts joyous and contemplative. The title track takes things a bit slower, with lush harmonies urging activism in troubled times. “Try to find a reason or steep in the season of now,” they sing, “And be the what not the how.”
Things get a bit deeper with “Hurricane”, a song described by the band as being about “facing the darkness head-on, to being unafraid to explore the deepest parts of ourselves to find release and understanding.” They were originally hesitant to record the song for the EP, but producer Ryan Hadlock (The Lumineers, Brandi Carlisle, Vance Joy) convinced them to do it. It was a good call. With the string arrangements meshing with Enscoe’s acoustic guitar, the music takes on a rich, urgent texture, pushing the harmonies into dizzying heights.
The haunting “Spellbound” adds another dimension to the Bandits on the Run sound. Combining those soaring harmonies with rustic percussion makes the song come off as a night around the campfire with some of the best vocalists you’ve ever hung out with. Enscoe takes the lead vocal duties on the heartfelt “Sing You to Sleep”, with a songwriting sophistication that invites comparisons to classic ‘70s pop-rock along the lines of Fleetwood Mac, with rustic Americana tones that verge toward The Band.
Now is the Time closes with “She’s the Queen”. It’s an anthemic ballad aided mainly by an ambitious music video that features drag performers from around the world. It’s a call to action to donate to #saveourspaces, providing financial support to queer venues impacted by the COVID pandemic. Just when you thought you couldn’t love this band more than you already do, they pull a generous bit of social activism out of their hats, which fits in beautifully with the eclectic, sonically rich musical genre that’s all their own.