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The Graham Album Review #1997

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The Bros. Landreth: '87
by George Graham

(Birthday Cake Records as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/28/2019)

In considering new music, among the criteria I have when doling out plaudits are two that are perhaps a bit at odds. One, which is more obvious and in a way more profound, is innovation and originality. Is it music that embodies something new and perhaps could stand as an influence for others? On the other hand, I find praiseworthy something that takes fairly familiar ingredients and uses them exceptionally well, coming up with music that stands out mainly for its very high quality. This week we have a very good example of the latter, an album of rock-influenced songs in a kind of singer-songwriter mode, using tried and true influences, but in which in which everything is just right, and manages to avoid the cliches. It’s the new album by the Brothers Landreth, a pair of siblings from Winnipeg, Canada. It’s their second release together, called ‘87.

Joey and Dave Landreth had been making music together for most of their lives, in fact since 1987, when according to their biography, they became brothers, from which one can deduce was the year that the younger brother Joey was born. Hence the album title, ’87.

They spent the early part of their career, however, as backing musicians and hired hands, both in the studio and on the road for many other artists. Their publicity bio goes on to say that during a long and grueling tour, Joey called his brother Dave to say “When I get home, let’s sit down and make some music together.” Thus they made their first joint album in 2013, called Let It Be, which was initially released only around their Manitoba hometown, but as later picked up by a Nashville-based record label. The album soon attracted attention from people like Bonnie Raitt, and won a Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy.

But the band went on hiatus for a while and Joey released his own music, with a solo album in 2017, and extensive solo touring. But the brothers’ time apart drew them together again, and the result in the new album ‘87.

They worked with producer Murray Pulver along with drummer Ryan Voth and additional guitarist Ariel Posen, plus some further players including keyboards. David Landreth provided the bass on the album. The siblings’ experience playing with other artists was brought to bear on the new album with a number of stylistic ingredients coming together, with influences that hint at groups or artists like Little Feat, Ry Cooder, and early Del Amitri, whose sense of high quality this album carries.

Lyrically, the songs cover subjects that have been the grist for songwriters’ mills for decades, but they manage to make it not sound stale. Likewise, the music is mostly rock-based, but the musicianship and production quality are exceptionally high. There is some influence from 1970s singer-songwriters like Jackson Brown, in the direct but often musically sophisticated arrangements. But there are also a couple of tracks that are mostly just guitar and vocal. Joey Landreth presumably does most of the lead vocals, and his singing is quite appealing with excellent technique but with a quality of genuineness.

Opening the 11-song album is a piece called Something which can evoke some of the better music of the 1970s. It’s one of the more-mainstream pop sounding tracks on the album, but it shows the attention to detail that marks this album. <<>>

More toward the roots-rock Americana direction is a song called Good Love. The lyrics are hardly innovative, but the band makes it worth paying attention to, with their sincere-sounding but classy arrangement. <<>>

More soulful and hinting at the influence of the band Little Feat is the Brothers Landreth’s song Got to Be You. Joey Landreth is featured on resonator and slide style guitars on this and several other tracks. <<>>

The contemplative side of the album is spotlighted on Master Plan which though slow and thoughtful-sounding, is one the highlights of the album. The lyrics are also some of the album’s best. <<>>

One of the two tracks done without most of the band is Salvation Bound on which Joey Landreth’s resonator guitar is the primary accompaniment. <<>>

On the other hand perhaps the most rock-oriented track on the album is Sleep Talker, but the louder guitars don’t mean the loss of the band’s tasteful approach and attention to detail. <<>>

Also on the rockier side is Maryanne with lyrics forming more of a narrative than some of the album’s other material, but does not sacrifice the group’s sense of taste. <<>>

The album ends with Better Now which provides a lyrically optimistic note.

87, the new album by The ‘87, the new album by The ‘87, the new album by The Bros. Landreth, Joey and David Landreth from Winnipeg, Manitoba, takes the idea of a kind of 1970s-influenced rock singer-songwriter delivers it with a whole lot of class. The musicianship is first rate, the songs are appealing and the rapport between Joey and David Landreth is obvious in the tight, coherent sound.

Our grade for audio quality is a full “A.” The sonic clarity is outstanding as is the excellent mix by Jaquire King, who has worked with many diverse artists in recent years including Tom Waits, Norah Jones, the Punch Brothers and Shania Twain. It’s a kind of textbook example of high quality rock production. It’s a reminder of how rare it is these days, when it seems that some albums are mixed for cell phone speakers, that a rock record sounds so impressive on a good sound system.

Innovation and iconoclastic artists who break conventions are commendable, but sometimes it’s nice to have music that weaves familiar ingredients into such an impressively high quality package. The Bros. Landreth definitely hit the target on their new album.

(c) Copyright 2019 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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