With Good Old War, a folk-pop three-piece from Philadelphia, it’s tempting to draw regional connections to the Pennsylvanian psychedelic Americana of The War On Drugs and Kurt Vile, but the band sound a lot more like Minnesotan alt-country pioneers The Jayhawks. Their third LP, Come Back as Rain is an exuberant affair filled with upbeat sing-alongs. Yet while it evinces some proficient musicianship, it lacks the depth to passionately engage.
Come Back As Rain is certainly competently executed. There are some appealing guitar sounds, from the uptempo picking of “Calling Me Names” to the steady arpeggio of “Amazing Eyes.” The lead vocals are strong, and the harmonies that close out “Loud Love” are a high water moment. Unfortunately there is a lot more going on throughout the album to detract and distract from these draws than there is to bolster them. The lyrics tend toward the innocuous, trite observations of romantic relationships intended to suggest something more profound: “Is this wrong or only half right/ You want me gone but I stay the night/ When I see you in the half-light/ It feels so fine.”
A lot of the record’s shortcomings are especially evident in the lead single “Calling Me Names,” whose lyrics are pointedly lacking redemptive qualities, while the back-up vocals are syrupy and thin. The song is repetitious and poppy to the point of pandering. The entire album could benefit from less polish. This would draw out the strength of the music, rather than glossing it over. A greater attention to folk traditionalism could benefit the band immensely. It’s not about authenticity, but potency.
In a recent SXSW keynote address Bruce Springsteen discussed how easy it is to say that any band sucks. You can say that the Beatles suck, if that’s what you really want to do. So I am definitely not saying the new Good Old War album sucks, but they do need to inhabit their music more. Sometimes it feels like they’re simulating a vibe more than they’re expressing it, like the songs aren’t really their own. There are strong elements in Come Back As Rain, but they don’t add up to a great record. In this case the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
The Jayhawks – Mockingbird Time
Dawes – North Hills
The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy