One of the great things about country is its honesty. When you turn on a good country song, hear that familiar plucking and that classic message “I’m just hanging around this little old town,” it’s impossible to believe that this is anything but true. These are just simple country folk, telling us about their simple lives while feeling the twang of that familiar music.
So naturally, the first time I heard Whiskey & Co., I felt as though I’d been stripped naked and flogged with ugly lies. The album starts out with the classic country sound and the message “I’m trying not to be sad, but I’m going nowhere fast,” and leaves you expecting nothing less that straight-back country music. But when girl-next-door Kim Helm starts singing about cocaine, Demerol, chasing women, and getting high, mixed with the southern ideals on drinking and life, it’s easy for the listener to feel used. Helm is able to pull off a good part of the songs and gain her audience’s trust, but when she starts singing lyrics that are apparently written for a male vocalist (“All you bar room women, I like you best”), the band loses that honest connection with their audience. They also lose the effect of regionalism as it is hard to imagine southern rednecks approving of Helm chasing those bar room women.
Luckily for Whiskey & Co., this honest facade isn’t all there is to the genre. The band pulls through with that timeless country sound, with that good old plucky guitar, back-up banjo, and occasional fiddle work that adds depth. They are pretty close to perfecting stereotypical country music, save perhaps the vocals. Helm’s voice is perfect for slow, soft songs; she’s got a sweet, silvery voice that is very similar to Jewel, with the added twang. When the pace picks up, however, the mannerism of country music requires a strong vocal section to make up for the played-down instrumental parts. Though it seems that she has the potential to fulfill her responsibility with strong singing, she never gets enough air behind it, and leaves the music sounding sweet, but not quite satisfying.
According to press releases and band descriptions, Whiskey & Co. is attempting an infusion of today’s alternative country and “the punk rock attitude.” This description, however, doesn’t quite hold true to their aural makeup, which is almost purely common country. If anything differs from this band to their genre’s forefathers, it’s their own personal lives and their occasional drug tendencies.
Though parts of Whiskey & Co.’s approach are somewhat disappointing, the album on the whole isn’t bad. What they lack in originality they make up for in classic sound signatures, and despite being without any outstanding songs, they’ve created a good selection for anyone who’s in need of something mild and sweet. The limited verity in the lyrics and the dearth of strong emotion in the vocals can be forgotten after a few minutes.
(No Idea Records)
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.