New Twenty Saints have been busy following their natural impulses. The burgeoning group lives for the present moment in a city with many names: Motown, Rock City, City of Champions, and Motor City, to name a few. Formally known as Detroit, Michigan, the city has been an engine of rich music culture for decades, churning out techno, soul, punk, hip-hop, and rock acts since the 1960s. In this Rust Belt municipality, John Salvage, Josh Budiongan, Evan Eklund, and Kirk Scarbrough maintain an organic, rock and roll nature through tireless songs that nearly blast through tar-stained walls.
Formerly John Salvage & New Twenty Saints, the name of the singer-songwriter, has been dropped to equalize footing amongst the band members. This time, they’re a stronger unit, dishing out faster tempos and robust tunes with sturdy motivation and authenticity. The 11-track New Twenty Saints is full of resolute purpose, bombastic without being pompous, and more refined by cleaner production from the band and co-producer Adam Cox. Salvage’s fervor is on full display within his strong melodies, gutsy yelps, and high-note cry outs throughout much of the record.
Their self-titled sophomore LP is heartland rock at its core, a genre most represented by the American Midwest. As with last year’s debut, Nikita, you can hear elements and instrumental techniques of roots rock and Americana through their stripped-down, vehement delivery. New Twenty Saints comments on the propulsive nature of a lifestyle dedicated to rock. “Call to Action” – an anthemic opener surging with extended electric chords and echoing vocals in the chorus – pushes the idea of rock music as a focused, natural form of being and accepting that this lifestyle pins down no stability.
The record’s meat is flavored with classic, southern, and folk tastes, though with contemporary weight, recalling heartland rock stalwarts like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, John Hiatt, Joe Grushecky, and Bob Seger (a Detroit native). Much of New Twenty Saints runs on unyielding energy akin to a Bruce Springsteen performance, arguably the most significant artist in the genre. “Third Crime”, “Y&C”, and “Ghosting” are a stretch of tracks that boast strong Bruce Springsteen vibes while reminiscing on 1970s Rolling Stones. You could imagine the vigorous “Blackheart” pushing the band’s endurance on stage, possessing screeching guitars and a pop-punkish sass that surges recklessly and sincerely.
Refreshing New Twenty Saints with quieter dynamics are two singer-songwriter tracks: “Fire Came Round” and “Haunted”. The former could be a solo song, but it’s beefed up with electric twang instead. It’s a grungy jam until the harmonica shows up, and Salvage runs seamlessly from vocals to harmonica as if he won’t even allow himself a breath. The latter is a straightforward acoustic track with minimal instrumentation and a distant melody that muses curiously over another person’s trauma. These songs sizzle with the relaxed feel of a fire in the desert dusk, and the album could benefit from more dynamic pacing and volume like this, which breaks up the surge of energy without killing the passion.
Lyrically, each track is like a page from the poetry journal of a restless wayfarer treading through the turbulence of life. “Prince” ruminates over being socially misrepresented. “Hamtramck”, named after a city close to Detroit, is a record of a singular, low moment of regret. Personal strife aside, New Twenty Saints romanticizes the dirty dive bar scenery, a low-lit space with a smokey, jean-jacketed atmosphere that hosts drink-drenched performances. Momentous and instinctual, “Third Crime” revolves around renewing youth through late-night debauchery, or perhaps youth that never wanes, and refers to the bar they call home. What doesn’t change is the impassioned youthfulness of rock and roll and the excitement that a band like this gets on stage.