Allow me to kick off this review by being as blunt as possible: if you aren’t on board the Red Collar express yet, you may want to step lively; there’s still time to get a good seat before this one leaves you behind.
The Durham, North Carolina-based quartet (Jason Kutchma – lead vocals/guitar, Michael Jackson – guitar, Beth Kutchma – bass, Jonathan Truesdale – drums) are back “Welcome Home,” their second full-length album (first for upstart label Tiny Engines) finds the band taking a sonic leap forward from their 2009 album “Promises,” taking their garage-inspired American rock sound to a level that’s this close to truly firing on all cylinders.
“Welcome Home” is ten well-crafted rock songs that sound like a big, slick rock record that has been stripped of any of the production bells and whistles that would actually make it either “big” or “slick.” As such, is sounds like a band steeped in the obvious tradition of working-class, poetic rockers like Springsteen and the Gaslight Anthem and the Hold Steady made an album that paid homage to all three, but they recorded it in very few takes and in the comfort of their own garage. The result is a solid if occasionally flawed rock album that sounds more like the album just before the band breaks into the mainstream; their “Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” or “Sink or Swim” or “Separation Sunday” as the case may be.
Case in point: album opener “Orphanage” is an up-tempo hook-driven track that turns a little too muddy by the time it gets to the sort of bridge-outro which seems to be a Red Collar staple. The muddiness keeps the track from really achieving the desired, powerful effect that I think it was capable of reaching. Perhaps it would translate better in a live setting. IT should be pointed out that it’s not the only track on “Welcome Home” that suffers the same fate; the same section of “Fade Into The Night,” for example, sounds a little sloppy and out of sync, bogging down an otherwise standout track.
“Losing My Accent” and “This House” are of the slow burn variety, building layer upon layer of atmosphere into the type of crescendo and singalong outro that sounds like an outdoor amphitheater on a warm summer night. Don’t kill me for the reference, but it’s the sort of track that Kings Of Leon cut their teeth on before they became, well, before they turned into that thing that made you roll your eyes and cringe want to kill me when you read the words “Kings Of Leon” up there.
Back on track. “Dodge K” is a particular favorite of mine, with its pace reminiscent of earlier, less avant-garde Modest Mouse. Songs like “Old Piano Roll,” an infectious, mid-tempo drink-and-dance inspiring singalong, “American Me,” a catchy, hook-driven, uptempo post-alternative track and “Welcome Home,” the album’s alt-country vibed closer, are perhaps the strongest tracks, so strong and well-crafted, in fact, that they leave the listener with the impression that you’re in on the ground floor of a band before the lid blows off and everybody and their fourteen-year-old sister is shouting their choruses from the hillsides. Jump on in, the water’s still warm.