How often do you come across a band that plays blues-rock and old-school R&B yet also sounds fresh? Pretty much never, that’s how often. But Vintage Trouble, whose Blue Note Records debut, 1 Hopeful Rd., is out August 14, is that kind of rarity.
These 12 songs evoke artists across the spectrum of classic soul, R&B and blues-rock, from Sam and Dave to Johnny Winter, Otis Redding to Led Zeppelin, but I like them not because of the homages they pay but the way they bring the classic sounds and song styles into the 21st century.
Vintage Trouble’s most obvious secret weapon is singer Ty Taylor, who can croon, shout, and ululate with the best of them. Backing up his impressively flexible voice are guitarist Nalle Colt and a nimble, in-the-pocket rhythm section consisting of the highly musical drummer Richard Danielson and the agile, melodically inventive bassist Rick Barrio Dill, whose flowing bass lines undergird the songs with as much artistry as solidity.
The frantic buzz-rock of the opening track, “Run Like the River,” might give one the wrong idea about the album, which leans more towards soul than rock. On the other hand it does help account for the band’s upcoming tour slot with AC/DC. “Strike Your Light,” also on the rock tip, opens with a melodic quote from Joe Cocker’s classic version of “The Letter” (R.I.P. Wayne Carson). But as the song barrels on it also suggests the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Living Colour – well, part of the fun is identifying all the stripes of source material from which Vintage Trouble fashions its distinctive new sound. Fabulous Thunderbirds? Kentucky Headhunters? The game could go on all day.
Incidentally, Cocker’s “The Letter” sneaks into the chorus of “Another Baby” too.
But the crisp, smooth, soulful sounds and the smart romantic lyrics of “From My Arms” are more typical of the album. And what makes that song more than a tribute is its tight and interesting arrangement. Indeed throughout the disc and all its carefully designed arrangements, the band sounds like a road-tested unit, not a studio construct.
Dill’s melodic basslines and Taylor’s waterfall vocals distinguish the otherwise straightforward “Doin’ What You Were Doin’.” “Angel City, California” builds a rock anthem under bright multipart chitlin-circuit vocal harmonies. And the aching ballad “Shows What You Know” reaches back to ’60s soul, Taylor’s painterly performance lifting it to another level. Taylor even channels Billy Stewart on “My Heart Won’t Fall.”
Maybe the choicest selection here is the somber, smoky “Another Man’s Word,” which brings Al Green’s passionate secular gospel to mind but, again, paying tribute through creativity rather than imitation.
That’s also where strong songwriting is key. Without that, even scarily good musicianship and arranging can only go so far. While some tracks are more melodic than others, every one contributes to the band’s rich tonal vocabulary and compositional depth.
But those long Latinate words aside, here’s the lowdown: Vintage Trouble is my musical find of the year so far. 1 Hopeful Rd. comes out August 14 and is available for pre-order now via the band’s website. In the meantime, the band will be on Late Night With Seth Meyers July 29 and The View July 30, getting in gear for the North American leg of AC/DC’s “Rock or Bust” tour later this summer followed by a series of headline dates.