|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Facedown||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 34:10|
Thieves & Liars hit the scene in 2008 with its Facedown Records debut When Dreams Become Reality, a hard rocking throwback to the 70’s – think Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Pink Floyd – that ranked with the finest releases of the year. While the “Me Decade” had its share of hits (Pittsburgh Steelers & Star Wars) and misses (disco and Donnie & Marie), Thieves & Liars scored a winner in When Dreams Become Reality as a result of its in-depth songwriting, lush instrumentation and multi-layered production.
The group returns a year later with its sophomore outing American Rock ‘N’ Roll. The album finds Thieves & Liars continuing the 70’s influenced hard rock trend but now taking the more “stripped down” and “back to basics” approach. In other words, the group has “scaled things back” by simplifying the structure of its songwriting while still emphasizing a foundation of hard rock mixed with occasional blues elements.
But does it works? And most important: How does it compare to When Dreams Become Reality? Well, without a doubt American Rock ‘N’ Roll is far from a bad album but does not quite reach the heights set on the magnum opus that is the debut. Now, do not get me wrong because sometimes the best things in life are simple – and I would never discourage a band from redefining its sound – but, at the same time, I cannot help but think Thieves & Liars did not play to their strengths on American Rock ‘N’ Roll: and that is the all out brilliance of their songwriting.
Gone, for example, are the beautiful to behold melodies, sweeping instrumental excursion and creativity, substance and attention to detail that made When Dreams Become Reality such a special release. In their place we have an album made up mostly of songs in the two to three minute range that, while certainly not lacking in merit, do not reach out and grab you like those on the debut did.
Yes, you will find your share of catchy hooks here, as is demonstrated on the albums title track, “Let’s Rock” and “Fight Song” (these three sound as if the group spent the past year listening to a bunch of old Rez Band tapes). “Till The Walls Fall Down” and “Charlie” bring a level of creativity that hearkens back to the debut while a blues heavy rock direction (think Glenn Kaiser Band) is taken on “Killed A Man” and “Prodigal Son”. “Walking By My Side” delivers a boogie flavored sound and “Revelation” some tasty southern rock flavorings.
American Rock ‘N’ Roll, once more, is far from bad but, all around, I am left a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps it is due to the debut being so good – and my expectations, subsequently, being so high – but one cannot help but get the feeling the guys might have simplified things too much- with the end result the loss of some of the depth that characterized the material on When Dreams Become Reality.
Performance remains a strong point. Guitarist Corey Edelmann is all over the place with his blues based licks and chops and slicing guitar riffs (you cannot complain about a lack of energy here). He acts in perfect accord with the rumbling rhythm section of Joey Bradford and Kyle Rosa, the two laying a bedrock of anchor-like bass lines and a heavy footed drum sound. Bradford continues to deliver the goods vocal wise, although he has forsaken much of the smoother elements to his approach for a style that is now rougher, course and grittier (and at times even strained).
The albums title track kicks up quite the storm, an onslaught of razor edged rhythm guitar and gut wrenching intensity complemented by Bradford’s scratchy vocal delivery. The lead work is straight from the Rez Band school of blues based soloing. The guys make a signature statement on this one:
Built this land on rock and roll
Oh my God He gave me soul
All my life I’ve wondered why
I get this feeling all the time
My body needs to let it out
We need to sing
America, we were born to sing
Of the land of the free
A blend of dogged guitar driven impetus and power drums puts “Let’s Rock” over the top. Moving forward with a dominate bass line upholding its verses (as the rhythm guitar slams in and out of the mix), the song culminates upon obtaining its big hook chorus (that finds the rhythm guitar establishing itself fixed and firm). The only complain is that “Let’s Rock” is a bit on the short side in coming in at just under three minutes- with the end result the oversimplification previously mentioned.
“Walking By My Side” showcases a boogie flavored side to the bands sound. I enjoy the infectious energy this one brings to the table, amalgamating some tastefully done guitar riffs (of varying heaviness) with a chorus that has non-stop hook written all over it. Lyrically, this one comes across in the form of a Psalm:
Well I went out to meet the Lord
I got down on my knees
Said my very first prayer
You know the Holy Ghost He met me there
I stepped on the Rock
The Rock was sound
And the love of the Lord
You know came a tumbling down
A clashing of symbols joined with a muscular bass line gets “Fight Song” underway. The song proceeds to drive ahead to a prevailing guitar sound, gaining further initiative as it procures an anthem-like chorus sustained by huge gang-style backing vocals.
“Till The Walls Fall Down” represents the albums best track. The song just plain kicks, guaranteed to not let go with its all encompassing chorus – the bands backing vocals again make their mark – and no nonsense hard rocking edge. Edelmann delivers a stretch of soloing steeped in the blues. The walls of Jericho is the subject at hand:
The call has gone out, time to move
Wait for the fall and then we’ll charge on through
Mouths quiet, hands at our side
The day will come when all our enemies die
Seven days, going strong
Nothing can stop us all from moving on
The horns blast, hear the sound
We will shout and then the walls will fall down
Speaking of the blues, check out “Killed A Man” with its gutsy slide guitar that would not sound out of place on any Glenn Kaiser Band album. While certainly not lacking in attitude and swagger, I find “Killed A Man” way too short in coming in at under two and a half minutes. As a matter of fact, after first listen, I could not help but say to myself, “Hey, wait a minute, where did it go”?
“Promised Land”, as straightforward a track as you will find, can best be described as back to basics hard rock. No, nothing fancy but the guitars are in your face, impetus rollicking and hook equally notable- so nothing to complain about here. Lyrics are straightforward as well:
Stay close, don’t leave us behind
This holy fire will lead us
This is our time
We’re on our way
Take me home to the promised land
Fall in we’re moving forward
Don’t fear the war before us
This is our time
The pace picks up with “Revelation”. This one allows Kyle Rosa to show off his technical drum sound – check out his work at the start of the song and just before its instrumental section – while Edelmann also shines with his southern flavored riffing. More of the bands “gang style” backing vocals drive its energetic chorus.
Thieves & Liars saves its best for last in “Prodigal Son” and “Charlie”.
The slide guitar returns on “Prodigal Son”, a scorching blues rocker with hard rocking sensibilities. With its grit laden impetus and just enough melody to pull you in, this one would do fans of 70’s influenced classic rock proud- all the while Bradford makes his presence felt with his raw vocal delivery. The band maintains its penchant for Bible based themes:
I’m looking down the road I’ve always known
With no place left to go
I’m turning back around and I am heading home
My fathers name I’ve dishonored while I’ve wasted away
And I am worn from the mounting weight of all my shame
“Charlie” heads in a similar direction but with the more hard rocking emphasis. Plowing forward with the rhythm guitar crunching in and out of the mix, the song adds in some blues driven guitar licks and an aggressively delivered (but catchy) chorus to establish one of the albums finer listening experiences. Pronounced backing vocals take over as “Charlie” heads in the more “toned down” direction its final couple minutes.
Perhaps I have been a bit too harsh in my analysis of American Rock ‘N’ Roll, at the basic level a good blues based hard rock album. But that is where the problem lies: In being merely good it is a far cry from the excellence of the debut. Yes, When Dreams Become Reality set the bar – and my expectations – high; and, as a result, I anticipated greater things from Thieves & Liars. That said, there are many who swear by this album so if you enjoyed the debut (or any type of hard rock with a blues edge) then by all means give this a chance- you could end up being pleasantly surprised.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “American Rock ‘N’ Roll” (3:21), “Let’s Rock” (2:43), “Walking By My Side” (3:26), “Fight Song” (3:17), “Till The Walls Fall Down” (3:48), “Killed A Man” (2:27), “Promised Land” (3:25), “Revelation” (3:02), “Prodigal Son” (3:51), “Charlie” (4:49)
Joey Bradford – Lead Vocals & Bass
Corey Edelmann - Guitars
Kyle Rosa – Drums