There’s a sweet underdog poetry to the story of Two Gallants. Having made music together in San Francisco since their pre-teen years, Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel eventually made their name via Saddle Creek and get-in-the-van touring, landing now on Dave Matthews’ label ATO and suddenly finding themselves under the fierce glare of a more mainstream media spotlight than they’ve experienced on any of their three preceding albums.
They’ve dragged themselves up the hard way, the right way, the way that invites congratulation and earns respect from fellow musicians. They sound very straight and direct too – there’s an unabashed love of old blues and its divergence through classic rock present throughout these ten tracks. There’s also often a keen appreciation of accessible, open melody that’d probably prick at the ears of the most casual consumer.
Yet, The Bloom And The Blight is far from being the great crossover record many would expect. In fact, at times it’s a very poor album indeed, veering as it does between the abyss of Led Zeppelin worship and the goodly grace of chiming country, making stops at alternately thrilling and despair-inducing ports of call along the way.
A prime example is ‘My Love Won’t Wait’. An unengaging vocal wanders into an exhilarating stoner riff. Then there’s a barrage of brutally bad Jack White door-and-floor rhyming before we’re swept into Pink Floyd harmony and beauteous, shimmering piano along with the refrain “You can try, ain’t no use/I’ll lose if you cut me loose” – a patently terrible line, in this instance tenderly and affectingly delivered. What the fuck is going on here?
This is a bizarre set of songs, seemingly untethered by taste, neither chastened or guided by quality control nor entirely driven by wild and shining inspiration.
The Graceland-era Paul Simonisms of ‘Song Of Songs’ sometimes offer a Mudhoney scream before opening out into an exotic, pounding but light and delicious instrumental jag and despite its faux-indie-blues let’s-all-record-at-Toe Rag vocal breakdown it’s a sort of beauty. In a way.
It gets more confusing.
How can you reconcile the Avett Brothers stroll of ‘Broken Eyes’ (boasting lines as embarrassing as “The wind blows high, the wind blows low” and egregious use of a harmonica) with the Nirvana tribute tickle of ‘Ride Away’, a song that slips into ‘70s trad bullshit as swiftly as it can (“…to see those sisters three..”? – Come on, man!) before taking a manic left turn into wild, unhinged, vivid and true rock ‘n’ roll, the pair riding the musical wave as hard and long as possible before again reverting to clichéd RAWK tropes?
It’s like being mugged by your best friend, then taken to hospital by them, all apologies. Then when you’re in intensive care they pull the plug on you. But not before they bring grapes…
There’s a touch more bad on here than there is good, no doubt. Tunes like the Aerosmith-lite ‘Willie’ and the sad, acoustic one at the end (please return this idea to the 1990s as soon as possible ), as well as the grating ‘Cradle Pyre’ (see what they did there, kids?) are hardly worthy of note, but, again, there’s the genuinely excellent ‘Decay’ a hymn of sorts that recalls Temple Of The Dog in its reserved, delicate finery. It’s a song with real soul, impact, true heart and clear eyes. When, inevitably, it crashes cymbals and fuzz all over itself in the style of so much self abuse it somehow manages to not destroy the loveliness that’s preceded it. Good work there, for sure.
Look, they’ve got the story, they’ve got the two-piece blues and rock ‘n’ roll thing going on, they’ve got the credibility, the love, a ton of acclaim and now, probably, the fame to go with it. It’s just hard not to wish they weren’t hamstrung by such musical inconsistency and a hankering for the uglier elements of rock’s past – ‘cos then you’d have a tale with a truly happy ending.
Listen to The Bloom and the Blight