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The Graham Album Review #2141

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Rose's Pawn Shop: Punch Drunk Life

(Independent release release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/14/2022)

The roots rock-Americana movement thrives on folk and country influences in songs played on guitars, usually very straightforward and unembellished musically. That’s pretty much the definition of the genre. But this week, we have a new album by a long-running group who have the trappings of roots rock, but serve up an interesting blend of banjos and fiddle, but with a surprisingly sophisticated pop-influenced sound with polished vocal harmonies, and compositions that get into elements like odd time signatures. The group is Rose’s Pawn Shop, and their new, fourth album, is called Punch Drunk Life.

Fronted by songwriter Paul Givant, Los Angeles-based Rose’s Pawn Shop released their first album in 2006. Over the years, they have toured extensively, including to northern Alaska. The group’s name, by the way, came about when Givant and his girlfriend named Rose broke up, and she stole the band’s equipment and pawned it at various locations around Los Angeles. The group has apparently had their share of adventures over the years. Their last album Gravity Well was released in 2014, and the group went through various personnel changes, growing family responsibilities, and then COVID hit, shutting down this band of road warriors’ touring schedule. The new album was started during the pandemic, with the various members recording their parts separately, but as things opened up, they went into a Los Angeles studio to finish up the project.

The result is a fairly generous 12-song album with their distinctive blend of folk and country elements with Givant’s appealing, more pop-oriented vocals, along with the band’s creative blend of influences and lyrics that address some of songwriting classic topics in an articulate way, also including some apparently autobiographical elements. The album’s title Punch Drunk Life is meant to reflect the group’s resiliency, taking the hits that life can give, but soldiering on.

The six-member band on the album also includes Stephen Andrews on bass, Tim Weed on fiddle, Matt Lesser on drums, Zachary Ross on additional guitar, and John Kraus on banjo, and backing vocals, though Kraus is not listed as a member on the band’s website.

Opening is a song that is based on the metaphor of the album’s title, Old Time Pugilist, reflects the album and band’s creative blend of bluegrassy fiddle and banjo with Givant’s classy vocals, and a rhythmically tricky composition. <<>>

With a similar dichotomy between the bluegrass influence with an almost art ro ck sensibility is Ghost Town, about trying to escape seemingly haunted memories of the past. <<>>

With a more country-influenced direction is Gratitude which is about what the title says – expressing thanks for your blessings. <<>>

Along the same lines lyrically is Better Know which ventures further into country territory, and which the band does tastefully. <<>>

A somewhat whimsical love song is called Miss Tennessee with the band showing their hoedown side. <<>>

One of the best sets of lyrics on the album comes on Boomerang which uses the analogy of the returning weapon to say that what you do will come probably back to haunt you. <<>>

The song called The Lonely One reflects on living the life on the road, and its contrast to the domestic life of one’s peers. <<>>

One of the highlights of the album is Satellite with its blend of a sophisticated musical composition, with part of it in a 7-beat rhythm – hardly roots rock – along with some of the most assertive lyrics about an asymmetrical love affair. <<>>

Punch Drunk Life the new album by the Los Angeles based group called Rose’s Pawn Shop is an appealing and interesting album that combines a roots-rock and bluegrass influenced instrumental line-up with musically substantial compositions and classy vocals more in common with melodic pop. The writing, by Paul Givant, is first-rate both musically and lyrically, and the production does a good job of blending the two sides of the music.

Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A,” with a clean sound, but some nice sonic gloss without sounding too slick.

The yin and yang of roots rock and sophisticated pop manage to come together on this worthwhile album by Rose’s Pawn Shop.

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This page last updated December 19, 2022