What is the great American sound? It is a question posed countless of times, over decades, across genres- from the birth of jazz, to the onset of rhythm and blues, from the gospel of roots to the opening strums of “Blinded by the Light”- we have sought to find the defining artist, album, song that is the aural equivalent such lofty expectations. When it comes to American heartland rock n’ roll, you’d have to start with and travel onwards from Seger, Petty, Springsteen, and Mellencamp. The Rushmore of heartland rock n’ roll influenced a wide variety of artists. Some sought to continue the blue collar, country-tinged traditional sounds of the genre, some that followed injected other styles to breathe new life into a genre that found itself pushed to the side during rock’s more hedonistic, and then grungier, times. In contemporary terms, The Gaslight Anthem became a bastion for a new generation of heartland rock n’ rollers. Still entrenched in country-folk roots, they infused punk’s urgency into the palette and became a musical albatross, so much so that Springsteen would join THEM on stage (at Glastonbury no less) to sing Gaslight songs.
While the Gaslight Anthem’s time has seemingly been put on the back burner, there are a few artists who ply their trade in similar fashion looking to fill that space. Atlanta, Georgia rock n’ roll act Aree and the Pure Heart are not just space fillers
The sax-tinged tones of “Gasoline Heart” makes no bones of where its musical influences lie; a frantic energy that is best described as Springsteen and The Gaslight Anthem on stage together at your city’s most rock n’ roll bar. “Crashing Into The Sun” is a percussion driven Mellencamp anthem that sits its heartfelt chorus next to hopeful escapism, while “Black Cats” is a little bit “Human Wheels”, but also a lot of Aree and his bluesy “ooo ooohs”.
Every album, at least every great one, has its “Jungleland”. A companion song to a great hit that in itself, is a wonder of a tune. It gives the album a contrasting resonance that showcases the artist’s ability to craft music a little outside of their regular sphere. Perhaps it is incredibly premature to compare the tracks on here to “Jungleland”, but if you had to pick one above the rest that subverts some of the album’s tendencies without forsaking what Aree and the Pure Heart is all about, it’ll have to be the beautifully crafted aching of “The Feeling I Get”. Piano and heart all splattered across its chest, Aree lets his lovelorn voice and introspective storytelling take its place in the spotlight. Its minimalist backdrop is near perfect, and at just over 4 minutes, is your reminder that at the very heart of Never Gonna Die, is Aree’s ability to craft stories. Some are heartbroken, some are full of hope. Some paint with raucous melodies and rock n’ roll vistas, and some paint with the quiet forlorn of the empty night.
We may never find out exactly what that great American sound is. Or perhaps, we are lucky that there is so much more than one- and that an amalgamation of these things creates the next best thing. Never Gonna Die is grand, it is both classic and distinctly now; a marriage of beautiful songwriting, spirit and a poet’s disposition. It’s not quite The ‘59 Sound yet or Born to Run, and maybe Aree and the Pure Heart won’t shake off comparisons to either, but if the great American sound is all of these things, then we can never have too much of it.