We Will Rock You: Two More Reviews feat. The Alabama Shakes and the April Fools

Jon Hunt

There's really no reason Brian Drake's last band, The Hard Left, shouldn't have been huge. I saw 'em live in 2009 or so and they absolutely knocked me out—Drake's a killer songwriter in the old-school rock mode, somewhere between a Warren Zevon and an Elvis Costello, say; literate and funny and "rockin'" (with the apostrophe-n, back when that was used unironically) and melodic as hell, and the players he'd assembled were magnificent, coming across like a hot-shit Quicksilver Messenger Service. They deserved a gigantic cult following they never found. I put it down to ageism and a sad lack of buzz probably caused by ageism and hipster-snobbism and I say fuck that.

The April Fools are, if anything, a slightly better band. They're tighter and more prone to interesting little arabesques and clever instrumental moments in the middle of songs, like the nifty guitar/bass turnarounds in "Stereo Blue" or the cool sitar touches in "Burning Hand." They aren't as acid-tinged, maybe; but there's something just so perfect about how everything's put together on their self-titled debut that just makes it sound like one of those gorgeous singer-songwriter albums from the late 70s that you stumble across in a record store and fall madly, staggeringly in love with. I’ll hold with the Zevon comparisons, and maybe amp 'em up a little bit—you can just hear the Man Himself rasping his way through the magnificent "Walking Backward" or fronting the post-British-invasion twelve-strings on "Reason," and I mean that in the best possible way—like Zevon, Drake has a way with a melody and a neatly word-crammy lyric and a fantastic arrangement, all delivered with a sly wink and a soupçon of dry wit. God, and just listen to the way the penultimate tune "Bertha Marie" is constructed, all 12-string jangle and longing and jazzy backing vocals. Phew.

In fact, you'd be forgiven if you thought this entire venture came straight out of 1978, and I mean that in the best possible way too. It's the kind of record nobody really makes anymore; a forthright, well-constructed, marvelously-produced country-and-power-pop-tinged ROCK ALBUM, all caps, the kind of thing Johnny Fever would have spun the living fuck out of, if that makes any sense. Like who does stuff like "The Same Girl" anymore? Those harmonica riffs, those gorgeous-ass female backing vocals, that heartbreaking vocal touch, those marvelous minor chords thrown in for maximum weepage? Nobody, that's who. Nobody. And that's sad, and that's what makes this whole venture stand out hugely, and why it's a noble venture beyond just being a great band. It's resurrecting a genre I'm not even sure there's a name for; a sound that hasn't been heard in a while, but one you’ll find yourself hugely missing and wondering why you hadn't noticed it was gone. It's a hell of an album, and I can absolutely guarantee a few hair-standing-on-end nostalgic moments across it that'll catch you off guard, and that's a truly fantastic thing.