Trip Wire: Once & Always

Purchase Once & Always from Big Stir Records or stream the album on Spotify.

“Once & Always” isn’t an album that won’t fully reveal itself to you after its first few tracks. The underpinnings are strong “alternative rock” tones a la R.E.M. with a blast of “Sticky Fingers” laid-back confidence, doses of garage rock, and a little psychedelia. The songs are very well written, smart, ironic, and memorable.

“Had Enough” opens the album with a nice blast of garage rock…“She didn’t want me out in the night life, but I never listened to her…I could never stop to be bothered…” It’s a refreshing change of pace from the never-ending torrent of too-sensitive “I’m sorry, baby” odes. There are no regrets here, folks. “I’ve been held down deep in the water, just about up to my neck…I’m not even sure how I got there…” Yes, a lack of self-awareness is sometimes inherent in the male of the species, and I dig the hell out of it every time a band instills that in the protagonist of a song. I have friends who have stood in those shoes, and so have I from time to time. It’s honest, it’s real. This song will pull you right into the vortex of the album.

“Down” has an immediately infections thumping bass and drum rhythm as the guitars slash through, and the “Down, down, down, down, down” chorus, coupled with a tight, fuzzy guitar solo, is straight out of an episode of “Top Of The Pops”…mid-to-late 60s / British Invasion glory. Another gem from the garage.

“Easy Exit”…a pleasant, mid-tempo change of pace after the opening hard rockers, with that timeless “alternative rock” / R.E.M. roll and tumble. This is another band where the vocals are perfect for the music. The songs are great, but you imagine this in someone else’s hands and the symmetry and chemistry wouldn’t be there. All of these flashes…the BoDeans, every great jangle rock band of the 80s comes flooding back. Another wonderful guitar solo is the cherry on this sweet sundae.

“Light Of The Moon”…a melodic, moody guitar intro and a tone reminiscent of Tom Verlaine / Richard Lloyd in Television, with more of that “alternative / heartland” rock. “Make me laugh until my lips bleed…Nothing is easy with you, nothing about you I don’t want known…” At this point, it’s worth noting that on each song, the lyrics are every bit as strong as the music. This band is smart AND rocking.

“Golden Gloves”…more mid-tempo, melodic music, a hazy look back at days gone by. This one has a feel that brings me back to the glory days of Jorma Kaukonen’s Hot Tuna ballads, especially with the addition of Robin Reynolds’ “high lonesome’ cello. Magnificent.

“Clear”…a nice, “after hours” sound here…the audience has gone home, let’s pack up the gear, but hey…why don’t we play one more? A great Traffic “Dear Mr. Fantasy” lead punctuates the lyrics. Chris Brown adds piano and Mellotron over stately descending chords that lead into a cathartic closing guitar solo.

“Bottle Rocket”…as the title implies…launches the band back into full gallop mode. A perfect “chugging” rhythm guitar drives the verses.

“Act Fast”…back on R.E.M. turf…”I woke up to the sound of my world tumbling down,” with the chiming guitars carrying a Stipe-eriffic lead vocal.

“Carolina”…a laid-back country rock ride with perfect pedal steel from Tom Heyman.

“Into The Sound”Stones via the Burrito Bros (or is it the other way around?) on a solid, tuneful track.

“Get Up Slow”…Country-rock swagger…”Warning signs were all around, you see the message without a sound”…country picking against a Mellencamp-meets-Stones backdrop of precisely strummed guitars. This one belongs on the radio…are you listening, DJs?

“Nell & Ludwig & Brigit”…You can hear a nice mix of most of the influences named above on this single track, with a classic bridge right out of so many hit records…You’ve heard a lot of “jangle rock,” but when you pull in several other key touchstones to pump up the track, you’ve got a band well worth following.

“Falling Away”George Rosenthal’s theremin adds a distinctive touch to a song that I can only describe as a mash-up of a slowed-down Tommy James “I Think We’re Alone Now” and something from “Sticky Fingers,” making it an ideal track to close the album. The closing repetition of “It feels like I’m falling away” is effective and hypnotic…a fitting finale to an album of 13 praiseworthy tracks.