On Album Number Three, the Cherry Valence blur the line between being in a groove and being in a rut.
Yes, it's an oxymoron, but the phrase that best describes TCV3, the third album from Raleigh, North Carolina's the Cherry Valence, is "modern classic rock". That is to say, the band -- guitarist Jamie Williams, drummer/bassist/singer Nick Whitley, drummer/guitarist/singer Brian Quast, with newcomers guitarist Erik Sugg and bassist Charles Story -- sounds like its members were born thirty years too late. Of course, that means that TCV aren't doing or saying anything that hasn't already been done or said countless times since, say, 1976, but they sound good covering well-trod territory.
They're also covering the ground that they conquered on their first two albums, 2001's self-titled debut and 2002's Riffin', and should Album #4 sound too much like its predecessors, I'll consider TCV in a creative rut, but for now the band is having fun and kicking out the jams just enough to land them on the happy side of stale.
It's debatable what responsibility (for lack of a better term) retro-rock acts like the Cherry Valence have to evolve, and it's an argument beyond the ken of this review. But taken as a stand-alone album, TCV3 delivers the goods. Guitar riffs and hooks abound, with a down 'n' dirty solo on nearly every track, though it seems at times that the guitars are too far back in the mix -- they don't leap out of the speakers as much as they should. Still, the band hits the ground running with the one-two-three punch of "Sunglasses and Headlights", "Minutes", and "Only Game in Town", tunes that prove the TCV have '70s AOR and Southern Rock down cold; if you find yourself missing the Black Crowes, this album is for you. And damned if "Only Game in Town" isn't the best song the Flamin' Groovies never penned. How many new tunes can you say that about these days?
After those three highlights, the album plateaus. The band hits all the right notes for the rest of the album, so to speak -- the bluesy, acoustic guitar of "333" ("halfway to hell", the band notes), the Ted Nugent-y "Someway Somehow", the party-vibe of the excellently-titled "Low Class Warrior" -- but they lack the fire and passion and dirty boogie that TCV are capable of delivering... hence, my fears about the band being on the verge of a rut. There's a thin line between being too workmanlike and being out of ideas.
TCV3 is best taken as an album meant to be played and rocked-out-to, not one to be parsed and overscrutinized to within an inch of its life. The Cherry Valence just want to rock and honor their forebears - from the Nuge and the Groovies to the MC5 and Bob Seger. All those acts could be counted on to play no-frills rock 'n' roll, and at the end of the day, the same can be said of the Cherry Valence. That said, I'll still be keeping my fingers crossed for a fresher sound from the band when their next album rolls around.