Marooned with the Treasure
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Good things, as the saying goes, are worth waiting for. So it is with Nashville’s roots rocking Blank Range. The band released its debut EP back in 2013. Touring — lots of it — ensued with the group getting tighter and more focused as an opening to bigger acts; so much so that they were featured as one of “Nashville’s next big things” in 2015. Yet another EP appeared in 2016, this one with a scrappy, some might say sloppy, video of the song “Circumstances” that was the very definition of homemade and didn’t go far to advance their art. Still … no album.
August 2017 finally sees the culmination of that work. Blank Range’s first full length finds the group abandoning their previously recorded material for a new, more focused and coherent sound. Co-frontman Jonathon Childers’ voice, a husky, weathered instrument somewhat like Steve Earle after a rough night, has gone from promising to captivating and is especially effective on the lovely, bluesy ballad “Crimson Moon.” Like his band’s swampy, unhurried style, his vocals are country influenced with a natural drawl that makes each lyric feel lived in and real, even if the words fall on the obtuse side. “It’s a labor of love, and that’s all it’s ever gonna be,” the band’s other vocalist, the slightly sweeter yet still earthy Grant Gustafson sings on “Labor of Love,” and even though the song’s lyrics are oblique, he might as well be speaking about keeping the group afloat for the four years it took to create this album.
There’s an assurance to the playing and performance of these often languid but never lazy roots rockers that comes from honing your craft and playing live for years of one night stands. Knowing what works, what doesn’t and having the poise to mold the material into a seamless whole is a talent that doesn’t come naturally; it needs to be worked and honed, exactly what transpired with Blank Range. Stripping down the sound to its tough, gutsy essentials helps these songs remain planted in the Americana dirt.
Childers’ return from addiction infuses itself into the lyrics of some selections, but words such as “A gold rush and a slave ship walk together down the main strip handing literature to blind rats that gather for a meal” (from “Seemed Like Word Got Around”) appear more stream of consciousness and early Dylan influenced than concerned with any concept.
Musically, the songs shift from the relatively catchy “Opening Band,” which cements the “sing about what you know” cliché, to the “The Season,” which transforms from a dreamy, acoustic start to a closing twisty, grinding Television-like guitar solo, an indication of Blank Range’s more indie rock roots and the floating, gentle “Ember in the Ash.” There’s an assurance to these performances and a gutsy, sweaty confidence exuding from every track that proves all the road work, changes in approach and obvious skill put into arranging these tunes has paid off.
It may have taken a while to arrive, but it seems from this impressive debut that Blank Range has finally found their comfort zone and is here to stay.