The Milwaukees, American Anthems, Vol. 1

The Milwaukees, American Anthems, Vol. 1

It’s not often that you run across a fairly new indie group that plays straight-up rock n’ roll. It’s even rarer to find one that demonstrates a real knack for doing it well. New Jersey’s The Milwaukees bring all of this — and more — to the table in their latest City Desk Records release, American Anthems, Vol. 1.

In the group’s third album, frontman Dylan St. Clark (vocals/guitar/vox), Jeff Nordstedt (guitar), Patrick Fusco (drums), and Donovan Cain (bass) have combined their talents to produce a very fine collection of cuts that exemplify an unusually fresh and energetic application of raw-roots-rock into the new millennial music arena. The final results that pour out of the speakers are as pleasing as they are somewhat surprising. You definitely come away with the sense that these guys really love this style of fundamental music and have carefully invested heart-and-soul into molding their crafted version of it into a beautiful masterpiece.

While most of the songs on the album are stylistically retro, they’re certainly no where near retrograde. Despite a slight alternative rock lean on a couple of tracks, the remaining material is a high fidelity, riveting charge forward, fueled incessantly by old-time rock backbeat-rhythms and graced throughout with catchy melodies, vocal harmonies, and extreme dynamics changes that provide many unexpected moments to listeners with traditional leanings. Sometimes described by their fans as “charmingly arrogant,” this somewhat oxymoronic personal nature bleeds into their music, too, delivering its rudimentary sounds through bold, periodic departures from former hard-and-fast music rules.

Now, when I say “rock n’ roll,” I’m not referring to merely copying far earlier groundbreaking stuff like Bill Haley or Buddy Holly. I’m talking about more recent restoration or reproduction moves in that general direction. Clearly, The Milwaukees haven’t set out to either reinvent or redefine rudimentary rock so much as they’ve remained determined to simply redeploy it in new and more creative ways. The lion’s share of the collection fits well within the “back-to-basics” genre movement of the late ’70s/early ’80s, which produced not only diecast-styled groups like Springstein or Huey Lewis, but also New Wave groups of The Pretenders’ or The Cars’ ilk.

In this regard, The Milwaukees are definitely more the former than the latter. Though they do journey into lighter fare on a couple of songs, the majority of cuts are pretty hard-hitting, and more comparable to pumped-up versions of Huey Lewis & The News or even Eddie Money. Numerous critical citations of the E Street Band as a major influence seem appropriate, as long as you also prepare to include more modern guitar effects and the total absence of Bruce Springstein’s coarse shouting chants. St. Clark is an extremely excellent singer, and he projects a formidable presence in the music with powerhouse vocals that are energetic and emotional, yet completely melodious.

As the album name suggests, the major concept theme running through the collection is the band’s own take on modern Americana. The lyrical content is stylishly poetic, delivered in updated vernacular, and rests squarely between the extremes of Tom Petty’s Century City sarcasm and John Melloncamp’s hometown-spun romanticism. The extensive North American touring of The Milwaukees (which reportedly succeeded in wearing-out four vans in the process) brings many of their own personal experiences into view through the words to several songs.

The lead-in track, “Moonshaker,” is the most unique of the bunch. It stands out mainly for its artistic versatility and potential marketability. It begins with several great sonic punches and settles into a swinging rhythm that combines a subtle, off-beat, Nickleback-styled tinge with expansive, full background instrumentation. Personally, though, I find the opening keyboard sampling to be a little too J. Geils pop-cheesy, and it kind of makes the song a bit weak around the edges.

For a band that prides itself on delivering slick rock ‘n roll revival stuff, the best tracks are to be found on the remainder of the album. Standout songs include “Highway To The Sun,” with its travel-metaphor-filled pairing of great vocals and lead guitar, “American Girl,” and its easy-going, Bob Seger ballad phraseology metering, “Save Me,” a very catchy tune with a chorus and finish that’s all Eddie Money, and “Rich And Famous.” This last song is my personal favorite, and I’m thinking about substituting it for my usual morning caffeine fix. I mean, if you’re not totally hopped-up by the end of this song, then you better break out the defibrillators, because there’s definitely something desperately wrong with your sensibilities. This track alone is worth hitting the download button for.

If you enjoy revisiting some slightly older backbeat rock styles and don’t mind the occasional insertion of more mod tweaks here and there in vocal harmonies, chord progressions, or lead guitar work, then The Milwaukees are a fantastic group to check out. American Anthems Vol. 1 is a professionally-forged rendition that fits this bill to the nines and comes laid down in a high-quality recording format. As you might have guessed, follow-up album Volume 2 is already in the can and promises to be a continuation of this band’s engaging style of music.

(City Desk Records -- 74 Heights Rd., Clifton, NJ. 07012; http://www.citydeskrecords.com/; The Milwaukees -- http://www.milwaukees.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, March 14th, 2008. Filed under Reviews.

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