On their fourth album in as many years, the Tarheel rockers craft heartland rock and offer lyrical musings with an uncommon grace, depth, and redemption.
BY JOHN SCHACHT
Ed. Note: Since forming in 2012, Charlotte’s Temperance League— Jay Garrigan (piano, organ), Bruce Hazel (vocals), David “DK” Kim (drums, percussion), Shawn Lynch (guitar, vocals, percussion), Eric Scott (bass), Chad Wilson (guitar, vocals)—have consistently delivered the musical goods, and pretty much the entire Blurt braintrust can claim allegiance to their powerful, emotional brand of heartland rock. For evidence simply check out our reviews of 2013’s Rock and Roll Dreams, and 2015’s The Night Waits, or read our 2013 interview with the band. In that interview, guitarist Lynch told longtime contributor John Schacht that delivering those goods is their whole reason for existing: “We’re not skinny young dudes, we’re not young, we’re not necessarily hip anymore, our only weapon is that we’re good. We play our asses off and write awesome songs, so we just need to do that as best we can. If we can’t, then there’s no point in doing it.” Frontman Hazel agreed, saying, “I really just love doing this. And there’s no reason to stop— it’s not keeping me from doing anything else, and it doesn’t hinder my life in any other way. It fits perfectly in.” Amen to that. Take it away, Dr. Schacht, and meanwhile, everyone feel free to check out our recent premiere of the song “Long Shot” from the group’s remarkable new album, Day of the Dove.
In a musical landscape where digital singles and electro beats have practically driven guitar-driven album rock underground, and titans of the art form like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty take what amount to nostalgic victory laps, it’s hard not to hear a band whose DNA is so strongly rooted in that past as anything but anachronistic.
But that, as they say in the sports world, is why they play games—or, in the case of this Charlotte, N.C.-based quintet and their fourth album, Day of the Dove, why they spin the black circle. (Or, in this case, the white vinyl; the band typically does its albums on colored wax.) This need to make rock ‘n’ roll whatever the long acclaim odds, and whatever the shrinking rewards, says as much about the art form’s pull as it does its Quixotic practitioners. With producer Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Pavement) overseeing recording at his Fidelitorium studio, Temperance League has slightly reframed its earlier references—which have ranged from working class Springsteen anthems and rebellious Heartbreakers’ singalongs to Ramones fuzz and the Byrds’ jangle—into a work whose sonic depth matches that of its lyrics.
It’s made more impressive by the fact that the band members have entered middle age with just as much dedication and desperation as they did trying to break in as young men. Now, though, it’s the dwindling clock that fuels the band’s surging tempos and multi-guitar attack, all of it dialed higher by singer Bruce Hazel’s heart-on-sleeve lyrics and fevered delivery —”I’m scared of growing older/I’m scared of starting over,” he cries on the propulsive rocker, “Long Shot,” “but I’ve never been one to give up.” That song, like many on Dove, finds the band opting for more Wall of Sound textures, trading in some of the immediacy of their earlier LPs for a deepness that may, in the end, suit them better. “Cathedral in the Sky” toys with their sound like never before, background narratives peeking out from Beatles-esque backwards guitar-lines and distorted drums. There’s even a whiff of Summerteeth-era Wilco on “Like New,” especially in its mellotron wash.
The LP saves its best for last, though, with the anthemic “The Good Fight” standing in for not just the last days of rock ‘n’ roll, but for the sunset of hard working Americans for whom it provided release and redemption. “And what about all the compromises?/And what about the consequences? Who was it for?,” Hazel sings as the Rickenbacker’s jangle, piano comping, and huge Spector-esque drums frantically tighten the tension, before it breaks into the chorus with what feels like a life-time’s release: “It keeps getting harder and harder and harder to keep up the good fight/You keep clinging tighter and tighter and tighter, hold on for your life.”
In asking these questions, Hazel and Temperance League already know the answers; they fight on despite them. And that’s what gives these songs grace, depth, and redemption no matter what’s going on in the culture outside of them—that is what makes the fight worthwhile in the first place. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: Rock is dead, they say? Long live rock!