Review: The Elms – The Great American Midrange

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The Elms – The Great American Midrange (2009)

(TRUST INC. Records)

2006 was an important year for The Elms: After four years of touring and maturing as musicians, they released their critically acclaimed third album, The Chess Hotel.  In their words, it was “loose”.  Check.  And “loud”.  Big freakin’ check.  In other words: It was no frills rock and roll and not for the faint of heart or anyone with an affinity for the pop stylings found on most hit radio stations.  And even though it wouldn’t find a home on most radios, it was welcomed with open arms by those that appreciate no-holds-barred, kick-your-teeth-in, make-you-want-to-punch-something, ROCK AND ROLL. 

 But as they say, that was then.  Today, they release their fourth album, The Great American Midrange, and while it is cut from the same cloth as The Chess Hotel, the melodic sensibilities that helped them on their second album, Truth, Soul, Rock and Roll, shine through as well.  The band has never sounded more comfortable, alternating between blistering bar room bravado, and delicate, earnest ballads.  Songwriter and lead singer Owen Thomas once again digs into the ideas that formed the thematic backbone of The Chess Hotel, and finds new faces and places to bring out in the light.  The band is small town U.S.A. and every song, in one way or another, paints a portrait of the good and bad that most Americans fully understand.  It’s happy, sad, angry, lonely, but most of all, hopeful.  But hope isn’t easy, and the band is quick to point out that whatever hope there is, it’s a fragile thing, ready to collapse if not held on to with all our might.  The great thing about The Great American Midrange is that most people won’t even notice the little truth bombs that are planted all over the album, they will just enjoy the great music.  And the band provides plenty of that with in your face rockers like the brash and catchy opener, Strut, and the toe tapping number The Shake, which transports you to some dirty roadhouse in the rough part of town.  There are plenty of melodic rockers that are instantly accessible.  I dare you to not hum along with tracks like the country rock tinged County Fair, or the fervent Back To Indiana.  The band even shows they have the ability to slow things down and take the music to a very personal and intimate place with the songs The Wildest Heart and the heartbreaking The Little Ways.  The second half of the album is stronger than the first, with the epic This is How the World Will End, the upbeat and defiant Thunderhead, and the subdued and bluesy closer A Place in the Sun.  The only song that didn’t work for me was The Good Guys, but I am more than willing to give it some more time. 

The band gives everything they have on every song.  Each member handles their respective duties.  They are greater than the sum of their parts, yet their parts are incredible.  Drummer Chris Thomas plays with intensity and passion, pounding out the rhythmic backbone like a man on a mission.  Nathan Bennett’s bass playing perfectly complements that sound, and acts as a stabilizing force for the album, and when he needs to shine, he does.  Thom Daughtery, who is one of the best young guitarists that I have heard, tackles each track like a new problem to solve.  Each song has a different sound and he shows an impressive range in playing styles.  Owen’s vocals sound good regardless of what style he is singing, whether it be aggressive rock and roll or a stripped down ballad.  He brings grit and an edge to a song if it is warranted, but he can smooth things out with a clear falsetto when something more contemplative is called for.  For some that won’t be enough since the band doesn’t really break any new ground.  If you are familiar with their style and the kind of music they craft then you have a good idea how this album will sound.  Perhaps that is a negative.  I’m not so sure.  I don’t penalize them for doing what they do best.  They stretch themselves as musicians on each album and they create music that is fun to listen to and still leaves you with a better perspective of the world.  They borrow from a variety of influences, but they make the music their own, with their own unique style and interpretation.  If you miss real, down to earth, rock bands, then look no further.  The Elms are what you have been missing all along.    

In the end, that is what The Elms are all about.  Mission accomplished.  The Great American Midrange gets 9.0 out of 10.0. 

 Download Now: This Is How the World Will End, Thunderhead, Strut, and The Wildest Heart.

The Elms is:

Owen Thomas – vocals, guitar / Christopher Thomas – drums, percussion, vocals / Thomas Daugherty – lead guitar, vocals / Nathan W. Bennett – bass guitar, vocals

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