The Damnwells are Damn Good!

THE DAMNWELLS  (2015            )
The Damnwells
Rock Ridge Music
* * * *

"Money and Shiny Things," the opening track of the new album by The Damnwells, is ostensibly about a down-on-his-luck man trying to win the heart of a woman who is probably out of his class. It's tempting, though, to see it as the band's theme song. Just a few years back The Brooklyn-sired Damnwells were on the music industry fast track: four LPs, a lurking major label deal, TV and film soundtrack work, and stages shared with everyone from Dylan to Cheap Trick and The Dixie Chicks. A few personnel shakeups and shifting industry winds and it all fell apart.  The band's latest is an indie rock return to its roots, including a reunion with original percussionist Steven Terry. I have no idea what the majors might have been looking for, because The Damnwells are more talented than anything I've heard recently on MTV or the radio.

Among the things that's special about The Damnwells is that they simultaneously remind you of other people yet are uniquely themselves. "Kentexas" opens with an anthem-like swell reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, but pulls back into a softer confessional of a man trying to walk the line between desire and faithfulness. By contrast, "Kill Me" feels like something from the mid-80s New Wave—a thick aural soup of cascading guitar runs, vocals, and electronic sounds puncturing a theme that's held together by Terry's rock-steady drumming. If that's not enough, "She Goes Down" has a sweet pop sheen; "Too Old to Die" has the feel and some of the vocal signatures of The Beatles in their late Abbey Road journey; and the album finishes off with "None of These Things," a song of loss and leaving that would be at home on CMT. The later is one of several change-of-pace songs on an album that pays attention to musical contexts. "Kill Me" is actually more typical of the band's approach in that there aren't many silences or spaces in their high-energy songs. The Damnwells prefer to rock out in shimmery, fulsome arrangements in which notes blend and meld, but they are wary of exhausting listeners and savvy enough to ratchet down with some recovery time. Moreover, Alex Denizen's vocals are the counterpoint to whatever roof-raising the instruments produce. His is a voice that's simultaneously strong but smooth–like hard rock with a butterscotch chaser.

This amazing album raises anew the question of whether those running the industry have an ounce of commonsense. At a time in which hip-hop has run out of creative steam, jazz is in the doldrums, and pop music is dire, the time seems ripe for a rock revival. Expect The Damnwells to be in the midst of that fray if it happens. Put simply, The Damnwells are damn good!
Rob Weir

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