So many bands and artists try to channel Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen that a lot of the music just ends up sounding formulaic.
You want to sound like the Bard of Minnesota? Just layer some jangly, folk-pop with mumbling lyrics and you’re good to go.
Looking to bring forth your inner Boss? Throw together some blue-collar lyrics, add some guttural vocals and sprinkle in some harmonica tracks and you can call yourself an honorary New Jersey resident.
Or, you could follow the tact of Philadelphia quartet The War On Drugs, who take their obvious Dylan and Springsteen influences and infuse them with new life while adding a modern alt-country allure.
One of the better songs in their catalog, “Brothers” — from 2010’s Future Weather EP and this year’s full-length Slave Ambient — is a solid head-bobber that includes both main influences.
The group formed in 2003, with the soon-to-be-well-known solo artist Kurt Vile as one of its two founding members, along with Adam Granduciel. After dropping a pair of EPs in 2005 and 2007, the first full-length release, Wagonwheel Blues, arrived in 2008. (Doesn’t that title just sound totally like the name of some Dylan album?)
My favorite ditty from this disc is the second track, “Taking the Farm”, which has a bit of Springsteen in it, including his trademark “Hoo hoooo” bellowing.
But for the most part, this album was all about Dylan. And it can be heard throughout on such tracks as “Arms Like Boulders”, “Buenos Aires Beach”, “Show Me the Coast” and “There Is No Urgency”. That last one had a real Band of Horses feel to it as well.
Next came Future Weather, which, in addition to three instrumental tracks and a pair that would be on the ensuing LP, included the more-than-solid “Comin’ Through”.
The band has outdone itself on Slave Ambient. There are a lot of different styles incorporated on the various songs, which helps mix things up and never allows the sound to go stale.
In addition to “Brothers”, other standout tracks include “I Was There”, “Your Love Is Calling My Name” and the closer, “Blackwater”. But my favorite song in the band’s entire arsenal is track 10, “Baby Missiles”, which is one of the album’s more upbeat tunes and seems to borrow its structure directly from Springsteen. There’s also a harmonica and more of the ole “Hoo hooo.”
Before you click the following link, be aware that this song has been stuck in my head for much of the last week.
The War On Drugs have had a lot of turnover since its inception, but providing it with stability all along has been Granduciel. In addition to being the lead singer, the Massachusetts native also plays guitar, harmonica, keyboards and samplers.
While the band has not reached the popularity of the since-departed Vile, it is certainly not because the music is undeserving.
After checking out their website, I see that they’ll be in Chicago on Wed., Dec. 7 at Lincoln Hall — easily my favorite venue in the Windy City. I can’t see any reason why I won’t be attending that show.