1. Partyin’ With Strangers
2. Generation Of Happiness
3. I Ain’t Having It
4. When The Smoke Clears Up
5. Everything I Need
6. Best I Can
7. Traveling Man
8. Help Is On The Way
I had not heard any of the Vegabonds previous albums, so I was surprised to find out that this is their fifth album, as the album title suggests. The artwork is striking and all American, with an eagle gliding at an angle next to a rocky range, mirrored to form a 'V'. The ring at the outer extremities look like a 12" LP indent on the sleeve. Given that the group has opened for such notable acts as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the late Gregg Allman, and Kid Rock, among others, it is even more surprising to me that I knew little of them. The five piece started as Alabama college students playing frat house parties and are fronted by lead vocalist and songwriter Daniel Allen, with Richard Forehand (lead guitar/vocals), Paul Bruens (bass), Beau Cooper (keys/vocals), and Bryan Harris (drums).
The Album starts of conventionally enough with a Country tinged song about lost love. 'Partyin’ With Strangers' which starts off with an ethereal slide guitar accompanied with a gentle acoustic guitar, after the first verse the rest of the band come in and the track takes off. Clever lyrics and catchy hooks permeate through the opener. 'Generation Of Happiness' is a far heavier number which like many songs over the years is about the lives of working men and women in America's industrial heartlands. As if to acknowledge that this slice of Southern Rock is not going to be all slide guitar and revved up country sentiments 'I Aint Having it' has an almost Caribbean feel about it. If you are walking and listening to this then you will bounce along as the bass line bounces like a joy inspiring metronome. In direct contrast to the opener, this is a song about staying with someone through thick and thin. It is a positive optimistic song. The chorus is as catchy as the instrumentation and Beau Cooper tickles the ivories before a really good bit of guitar from Richard Forehand. The next song follows a similar vein, but is more of a lament. Again this is more recognisable as Southern Rock with a sweet acoustic guitar intro accompanied with slide guitar. This track has another catchy chorus full of rhythm, 'When the smoke clears up and the dust settles down, I'll be right here I'll still be around'.
'Everything I Need' adds more grunt back into the album. This is a great driving song both in terms of the instrumentation and the imagery in the lyrics. This is a real stand out track, and the one that I was singing long after I had put the album down. Bryan Harris' throbbing drum beat provides the impetus throughout, the guitars and keys give this a real American epic feel. The echo on Daniel Allen's vocals add real depth. If you are listening to this in the car, then make sure you know where the speed cameras are, because it might add lead into your right foot. Paul Bruens' bass dominates 'Best I Can'. This is an acknowledgment of doing the best he can in a relationship against the backdrop of the harsh reality in industrial towns, with lines like 'I ain't scared of the work, I'm scared when the work aint there.'. The Bass that starts 'Travelling Man', is reminiscent to the intro of Twin Peaks. It adds a sense of weight to the lyrics. Life is one big road trip, and this conveys the life on the road that the band has. In contrast to the deep bass, the guitars are sparse and light. The lyrics take you on a journey of the southern states, and have provide succinct but descriptive narrative 'Its all bright lights and gasoline, truck stops and coffee beans', only eleven simple words, but the image they paint is spot on. The album finishes all too soon, after about half an hour with 'Help Is On The Way'. Whilst this is Southern Rock the keyboard hints at a more Progressive Rock feel, a touch of Floyd, if you will. Thats as far as it goes though because once the number starts, it becomes a full Rock number. This would be a great live track, maybe not as catchy as other tracks on the album but the band go full out for the conclusion.
Whilst this album does not have anything groundbreaking it is diverse enough to keep you listening. It is not just a collection of Country Rock, but has more depth. I wish that the album had a few more tracks as it ended far too soon, and I was enjoying myself far to much for the abrupt ending on 'Help Is On The Way'. I guess The Vegabonds were living up to the adage of 'leave them wanting more'. This is an album full of well crafted songs, backed up with clever and descriptive lyrics, and excellent musicianship. The production is excellent, and the story telling about Life, Love and Hardship for the average person on the street is very engaging. The only thing to do now is to check out The Vegabonds back catalogue.
'V' is released in the UK on the 22nd February via Blue Élan Records.
Website - www.thevegabonds.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/thevegabonds/
Review - Tony Creek