Black Laurel, “Black Laurel” (Independent)

If rock and roll, like any other form of music, stops growing, is it still alive? More to the point, is it still relevant? Gregg Yde apparently thinks so. An audio engineer from Chicago, his debut EP as part of a power trio delivers seven concise blasts of meat-and-potatoes heartland rock; as a singer-songwriter, he’s sort of what might happen if Roger McGuinn of the Byrds suddenly decided he wanted to write with the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. His songwriting’s not on their level—who is?—but after an obligatory song about the perfect unattainable woman, he segues into some very relevant, very modern commentary on the state not just of New Orleans but of America itself. Check out his view of an ideologically driven Post-K New Orleans: “We’re going to march into your town / we’ll knock all your statues down / be you a Christian, Muslim, Jew / we’ll paint you all red, white, and blue.”

The sheer force of the band’s usual attack—fast and muscular, but not metal—seems to lend weight to what is probably irony, especially given the very next track, “Back on Camp,” which talks about people who “march on this state in protest / they confuse fear for contempt / everything they know they forget / everything they feel they regret.” And what’s all this about the ERA and the Berlin Wall? It probably doesn’t matter. As someone who in actual practice comes on like a countryish Jackson Browne who’s finally learned to rock out with some Southern-rock guitar licks, he certainly makes everything sound compelling. Which is all rock and roll did most of the time, anyway.