Just under a year ago, Indiana University-born group Durand Jones and the Indications released a self-titled debut rich with strong, classic soul vibes and serious funk energy. With irresistible grooves, the group let loose with swinging, brassy rock ‘n’ roll. It was a shot of concentrated nostalgia, one that still managed to sound fresh in 2018.
Now, the group delivers yet again with their sophomore release, American Love Call. It ends up a little slower, more somber than the group’s first album, music to contemplate rather than to get down to on the dance floor. The group wears this new hat well, sounding every bit as old-school cool as ever while commenting on contemporary social issues in a way that shows as much consciousness as it does musical cohesion.
“Morning in America” opens the album, every bit as hefty in its subject matter as it sounds, belying its rolling midtempo. The song touches on political bureaucracy, the opioid crisis, heavy metals in Michigan water, and general inequities from coast to coast. By the ferocious electric guitar solo that fades out at the end, Jones has called out racial and economic segregation alike, going from “morning in America” to “mourning in America” in a matter of minutes. Later in the album, “Sea Gets Hotter” is a jazz-tinged riff on climate change, troubled times, and the ephemerality of each human life (“World’s weight upon us / But it don’t mean nothing / ‘Cause we’re leaving soon / So we cruise, baby”).
That is not to say, by any means, that the group has lost its sense of love, hope, or fun. Early single “Don’t You Know” features drummer Aaron Frazer’s falsetto voice doing most of the leading and Jones anchoring the song with satisfying harmonies; the song is a straightforward love ballad with understated moments of perfectly placed reverb. Following it in the same vein is “Circles”, a wistful ode to infatuation laced with both Motown-style violins and the occasional fluttering synth line to mesh old and new.
Solid tracks fill the album, made even more powerful by the increased presence of the Indications around frontman Jones. American Love Call takes the band to new heights of musicianship, and it turns out that they are, indeed, much stronger the more they work together. The vocal harmonies on “Listen to Your Heart” are about as angelic as it gets. Throughout the album, Jones is still an undoubtedly dynamic frontman, but the whole group together makes an arguably better ensemble when everyone gets the chance to be fully present. It may even be the key factor that allows the Indications to make such a shift from a high-energy past to a more laid-back present, as the intricacies in their interactions make even slower songs captivating.
The album ends with “True Love”, an exquisitely simple expression of longing that begins with a sweetly strummed guitar line and drifts, tranquil and soothing even as Jones passionately pours his heart out to a hypothetical soulmate. It makes for a pleasant way to end an album that never shies away from the rougher parts of life. Such range and care throughout American Love Call cement Durand Jones and the Indications’ place in modern music – as artists working with today and yesterday in a way that shows a true understanding of both.