Easy

The Weeks

Lightning Rod Records, 2017

http://theweeksmusic.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/16/2017

Is there a completely original sound left in rock and roll? Sixty-odd years on, many of the best bands around feel more like the sum of their influences than an attempt to create something the likes of which you’ve never heard before. It’s inevitable, of course, and some critics will whine and moan about it, but not this one. There’s still plenty of excellent music to be made within the broad boundaries of the by now well-established rock genre.

The Weeks are a distinctly Southern quartet that first formed when the four principals were in high school in Jackson, Mississippi. Twin brothers Cyle and Cain Barnes cover lead vocals and drums, respectively, with Damien Bone on bass and Sam Williams covering guitar, background vocals and keys. After a pair of albums each on indie labels Esperanza Plantation and Serpents And Snakes (Kings Of Leon’s house label), the group’s fifth album found a home on Lightning Rod Records, the Nashville-based indie that’s also home to James McMurtry, Jason Isbell and a collection of other iconoclastic characters.

Easy is a collection that feels out of time, a heady mélange of influences ranging from Pearl Jam (in Barnes’ scruffy, earnest vocals) to the Black Crowes (in the tight, often r&b-tinged southern rock arrangements) to T. Rex and its many acolytes in the group’s clear affection for that big glammy guitar sound. For the band’s fifth album they split the difference between their adopted home of Nashville and their home turf of Mississippi, decamping to legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, home to Big Star, the Replacements, and R.E.M., whose influences are felt as well in the group’s fondness for tight songs that honor pop/rock structures while being propelled by the band’s own unique blend of musical fuel.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The opening volley of “Talk Like That,” “Ike” and “Start It Up” sets the tone nicely, a trio of propulsive numbers that are almost power-pop in their essential drive, while throwing multiple other influences in the pot and stirring vigorously. Opener / opening single “Talk Like That” contributes tight, buzzing guitars and a driving arrangement that breaks it down and brings it back over and over, the push and pull giving it a tidal feel even as hints of a chugging baritone sax add texture to the bottom end.

Next, the punchy, urgent “Ike” rides a lilting lick over a nimble rhythm chart, with Hammond and then horns coming in to give it an expansive, almost “Born To Run” feel before Williams cuts loose with a fat, glammy solo and they break it down again. “Start It Up” finishes off the opening trio with a Black Crowes-ish number that opens soulful and spacious before slamming into the chorus with big, chunky power chords.

From there the boys begin to shift gears more, with equal self-assurance. They turn the stove down to simmer for the soulful “Hands On The Radio,” anchored by tasteful organ and horns. They get frisky again for “Bottle Rocket,” a stripped-down, twitchy rock number with a lyric that feels predictable yet perfect (“Well he lived his life like a bottle rocket / Short fuse and all”). The autobiographical “Gold Don’t Rust” sets a familiar life-on-the-road lyric to a tight retro arrangement that melds the fiery melodic rock of Jet with the fuzzed-out glam guitar of El Camino-era Black Keys. “Sevens” turns the same sense of drive airy, finishing in a hail of silvery, echoey guitar.

There are some minor missteps in the late going; Williams’ sleazy, elastic guitar is the sole high point of the otherwise rather plodding “Blame,” and airy ballad “The One” reaches for drama without ever really grasping it. But the band finishes strong. First comes the big, vibey “Ain’t Dancin’,” a surging number that feels like it owes something to The Hold Steady in its naturalistic, rapid-fire lyric about small-town, marginalized characters. And then they close in dramatic style with “Don’t Be Sad” featuring just Barnes’ charismatic vocals over Williams’ moody organ, and at least one terrific line: “Don’t be sad, we were all thrown away / But there’s enough of us crumpled up people, we’ll find somebody.”

The Weeks don’t try to fight history; rather, they turn the lessons and strengths of their musical forebears into tools they use to build a sound of their own. Easy lives up to its name in the sense that it’s easy music to get comfortable with, a familiar wash of musical colors and tones arranged into a fresh new image of 21st century rock and roll.

Rating: B+

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