Sam Roberts – We Were Born in a Flame

I have this strange fondness for 70’s flared rock. Whether it is due to my incessant Dazed and Confused viewing habit or the fact that a good deal of these tunes were the result of some drug induced haze, I just have this endearing place in my musical heart for Lynyrd Skynyrd (I love me some Skynyrd dammit!) and their ilk. So it was to my jittery heart’s content that the track “Taj Mahal” embraces similarities to the reflective grace of “Tuesday’s Gone”; from its piano guided backbone to the snake charmer sing-along chorus, it is a superb psych-rock trip that closely rivals its Jacksonville counterpart sans the lengthy overture. It sits comfortably in the fifth slot, but Roberts had already won me over with the four that precede it.

It seems there is an unhealthy amount of aspiring rock n’ rollers who tip their hat egregiously to Dylan, but Roberts treads finely to temple Bob (or at least making it to shrine Waits or Petty) in the opening “Hard Road”. Its musings of life’s difficulties (“And the sun dies until it’s reborn / But there’s no road that ain’t a hard road to travel on / Got lost on the way but you found the road again”) coupled with his slightly raspy intonation, blares ever so clearly in this soulful attaché of guitar blazed traveling. There could very well be “something in the air” but Roberts’ bouncy, Who-like “Don’t Walk Away Eileen” is dignified knee-slapping rock n’ roll fun; driven by upbeat percussions and a festive attitude, it far surpasses the general cheesiness of other notable “Eileen’s” (see Dexy’s Midnight Runners). And like “Don’t Walk Away Eileen”, the single “Brother Down” featured on Roberts’ 2002 EP, Inhuman Condition. Boasting a seemingly more improvised, jam-like quality, the track’s folky disposition lacks the smoothness of the first two, but holds stronger as mass appeal.

Roberts seems endlessly restless however, refusing to rest on a specific approach, he meanders all over the rock panorama. He graces swanky Vegas/lounge settings in the fashionably sounding “Every Part of Me”; this cut travels well into danceable pop lounge realms that scream “retro!” – A seemingly nostalgic adventure into vivid memories; “I can never bring them back / But those days remain inside the very heart of me / my memories are white and black / But the song’s the same / It plays in every part of me,” it is the album’s most accessible number. But don’t discount Roberts as a musician who favors pop influences, “Rarefied” is another foray into retro-rock; captained by hallucinating bass signatures, it keys on remedies familiar to the washed out sounds of the 60’s; replete with vocal trademarks akin to one Jim Morrison and segues nicely into “On the Run”, a cut fitting of its title; frantic, disorderly and championed by fuzzed out guitar strikes and a chaotic sense of worry accented by the rash vocals and frenetic drumming.

Strangely enough, Roberts’ indecisiveness and lack of concentration (on one specific mode) is his true strength. His vast coverage may be his desire for common approval, but like others who may spread thin and break, We Were Born in a Flame is potent in its kaleidoscope vision of sounds and style. There is distinct consistency in his wavering; when he touches on more hazed filled rock, he does it with fervor and panache; when he graces more insightful ground, he does so with sweet sincerity; and when the music oozes earthier tones, he sounds as experienced as the everlasting countryside in all its majesty.

It is unclear whether or not this musical breadth is the result of all the hits he may have taken to the head (Roberts is an ex hockey player) or that his musical talent was just waiting to be “beaten” out of him. Nevertheless, the brief “joie de vivre” he displayed in Inhuman Condition has progressed remarkably well on We Were Born in a Flame.

(Universal Music)