BY FRED MILLS
In 2013 Charlotte’s Temperance League dropped their sophomore album, aptly titled Rock and Roll Dreams, and quickly ensured that their reputation as a charismatic, compelling live band would now include the notion of them also being studio savants. Equal parts Byrds-esque psych and Springsteenian anthemism, the Mitch Easter-helmed platter was marked by vocalist Bruce Hazel’s inspired urgency at the mic and the 12-string flourishes of guitarist Shawn Lynch, plus the assured backing of their fellow Leaguers. That it wound up on numerous regional publications’ and critics’ best-of lists was no surprise when the year’s end arrived.
The Night Waits should be the one to extend the group’s reputation across the country and beyond. (It’s available on either beautiful color vinyl or as a digital download.) Returning to the well with Easter for engineering and mixing duties, the guys in Temperance League don’t significantly alter their musical trademarks—the basic sound remains gutsy, melodic, heartland rock—but they have clearly upped their songwriting and arranging games. It kicks off with the title track, a blazing, brawny thumper about the eternal allure of the looming nighttime: “The night waits at the end of the day/ Tonight will be different/ Tonight you’ll be magnificent,” promises Hazel, and with such swagger that you have no choice but to believe him. Baby, we’re born to run.
From there you get sinewy rockers (“Land of Opportunity,” boasting a steely guitar solo from Lynch) and edgy, slashing anthems (“The Gap,” which is pure Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) alongside moody meditations (“The City is Mine,” wherein Hazel’s swagger is tempered by the realization that sometimes there are forces out there larger than us – “tomorrow I’ll be just another number”) and aching midtempo balladry (“Lonely Time,” a jangly chronicle of heartbreak). Despite each song’s singular power, the album has a subtle conceptual vibe, a unity fostered by the presence of certain recurring words (such as “night” and “city”) and themes (confidence collides with self-doubt, dreams get muted by reality). Throughout the band consistently delivers, with its surging keyboard lines (courtesy Jay Garrigan), arena-worthy percussion (David Kim) and propulsive basswork (Eric Scott) providing plenty of room for Lynch and fellow guitarist Chad Wilson to maneuver and provide an array of the kind of inventive flourishes you’d expect of an ensemble that had been together for decades and not just a few years.
For his part, Hazel remains an astute and passionate student of the human spirit in all its myriad emotional dimensions; in another era, he might’ve been an existential philosopher poet instead of a musician. “Sometimes the words can get the best of me,” he sings near the end of the album, adding, “my head fills with doubt and jealousy – I turn to you to put my mind at ease.” And while he’s probably thinking about a girl (isn’t that what rock ‘n’ roll’s supposed to be about anyway?), it’s not hard to extrapolate towards the universal, in which that “you” is all of us.
Pure poetry, indeed.
DOWNLOAD: “The Night Waits,” “The Gap,” “”Land of Opportunity”
Read our 2013 interview with Temperance League HERE.