A lot has changed since the blog last heard from Vancouver band The River and The Road. They’ve grown-up and grown some confidence! In the opening line of Headlights, Andrew Phelan sets the tone of the whole thing when he declaratively sings, “It seems the honeymoon is over so we got some work to do this year, my friends.” And my how they’ve worked.
Their debut self-titled album, released over three years ago, was familiar and catchy, a little bit folk, a little bit country. It was good but hearing it now, it lacks a backbone. There’s a shyness to most tracks. In its stead, a self-assurance is firmly planted in their sophomore record. If you’ll bear with me: The River side of the band rushes with attitude and a rowdy alt-country makeup that’s infectious. The Road side, the quieter side, is not as desolate and meandering like before – there’s a clearer direction.
Steel-toed boots on, The River and The Road kick up some dust in the aforementioned alt-country side of Headlights making for an immediate draw. The crunchy guitars of opener “Mistakes” burst with energy while “Weakness” proves it is anything but as it weaves between sturdy guitar riffs and a chorus that’s one of the album’s most memorable as the narrator combats his own weaknesses.
The early highlight “I’m Broke” (reminiscent of Cuff the Duke’s “Take My Money and Run”) is a playful search for wealth and freedom amongst ruckus-y instrumentals. In another album bright spot, the bluesy “Child With A Gun” is packed with energy, harmonies, foot-stomping and hand-clapping motivation that will get you going “back to the start” (of the song) as the band prompts.
On the quieter side of Headlights, The River and The Road fall back on the instrumental combo that primarily made up their s/t record – acoustic guitar, banjo, some light percussion – but now it’s much more polished. “Coulee (The Prairie Song)” is a tender ballad, scattered with a banjo, that aches with loneliness. Closer “White Flag” is another emotional ballad, made up of guitar and banjo, that also tries to battle the harsh sting of loneliness while reflecting on the futile hunt to catch up with life’s changes.
Headlights shines a light on how big The River and The Road could become.
Headlights is available on iTunes.
Top Tracks: “I’m Broke”; “Child With A Gun”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)