Universal Blues

The Redwalls

Undertow Music, 2003


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It still baffles me that The Redwalls weren’t huge.

It’s not that their sound was ever original—quite the opposite. The entire point of the Redwalls was to create new music using familiar vintage sounds, melding the instruments, styles, arrangements and even vocal affectations of the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Faces to craft new songs for a new generation of listeners.

Done poorly, of course, this could be disastrous, a lame attempt at homage that sounds like a bad cover band suddenly switching to originals. But the Redwalls didn’t do it poorly; they did it as well as anyone ever has, not just recreating classic ’60s tones and sounds but writing dynamic original songs in those styles and performing them with evangelical fervor.

Their single major label album De Nova (2005) and its indie sequel The Redwalls (2007) illustrated the potential of this approach in technicolor, delivering catchy, memorable new songs that nonetheless felt like old friends, wrapped as they were in familiar sounds. Universal Blues is where the band began, the indie debut that first caught the attention of folks at Capitol Records.

They lead off with the best song here, “Colorful Revolution,” which also offers a sort of executive summary of the Redwalls as a band: jangly rhythm guitar with little “weeping” lead guitar accents from Andrew Langer; cleverly arranged, alternating solo and gang vocals led by Logan Baren’s distinctly Lennon-esque nasal delivery; simple, effective blues-shuffle drums from Jordan Kozer; single-chord percussive piano lurking deep in the mix; and then at the very heart of the song, brother Justin Baren’s bounding, bubbly bassline that borrows more than a little from “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da.” When you get to the chorus and hear Baren singing about revolution, there’s nothing left to do but smile and go look for your vinyl copy of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Rubber Soul.

They go a little bluesier for “You’ll Never Know,” adding heavier guitar, Hammond organ and some “hoo hoo” background vocal accents lifted right out of “Sympathy For The Devil.” Batting third, “It’s Alright” is an upbeat rocker whose hooky, rather Yardbirds-ish energy won it a spot on De Nova (along with the lovely lost Lennon ballad “How The Story Goes,” also first heard here).

The rest of the album is a pastiche of different styles familiar to any aficionado of ’60s British Invasion. “Speed Racer” veers to the retro end of the dial, its call-and-answer vocals and surf rhythms evoking nothing so much as a late 1963 BBC episode of Ready Steady Go! “What A Shame” is a big, echoey blues shouter, while “Home” is a thoughtful lament that blossoms into a romantic entreaty. “I Just Want To Be The One” adds a touch of country flair, the kind of number John and Paul might’ve written for Ringo to sing. And the closing title track offers another big sing-along blues, pushing skyward over a warm bed of Hammond.

The one real curveball—and only cover—here is fairly brilliant as the boys take Texas boogie-rockers ZZ Top’s “Balinese” and remake it as an outtake from The White Album, full of slicing blues licks and acrobatic vocal dropouts. It’s a tasty diversion.

The Redwalls wear their influences on their sleeves and are thoroughly unapologetic about it. And why should they apologize? These are classic sounds, recreated beautifully. While the songwriting and production on Universal Blues aren’t quite at the level of the subsequent De Nova, the raw materials are all here. It’s as obvious why Capitol signed them as it is a mystery that they didn’t hit it bigger… “What A Shame,” indeed.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2016 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Undertow Music, and is used for informational purposes only.