The Revivalists seem to be the next up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll band from the Crescent City. Their live shows have an inviting energy, and they have a new recording, City of Sound, that combines the energy of their concerts with studio touches courtesy of the band and producer Ben Ellman (Galactic, Trombone Shorty, Gypsyphonic Disko, New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars). The album has a dirty sound to it, with a grungy distortion in the tracks that gives them a greater power and depth. It allows instruments to sound like things they aren’t, with horns sounding like synthesizers and vice versa. Is it live or looping when the lead track, “When I’m Able,” features a repeated single-note guitar riff and four-note horn riff?
This intricate production puts this record firmly in 2012, but mixed with this dirty, contemporary sound are songs and sounds that hearken back to the best of the 1980s. “When I Die” sounds like the sexy funk of INXS, “Criminal” has the new-wave airiness and chiming guitar of early U2, while “Chase’s House” has the lightness and high-note lines of the Cure. Incorporating these elements instead of the worst aspects of that decade, such as the Cure’s mope or U2’s over-the-top earnestness, is a good idea, but the arsenal of musical references from the last 30 years serves the songs.
The people living in City of Sound seem to be troubled, in trouble or on the edge of trouble. David Shaw’s dynamic vocals convey the life or identity crisis that the characters in the songs grapple with. By the last song, the band is kicking a sitar-like guitar line while Shaw asks, “Hello friend, are you happy with what you see?” and “Who are you?” They’re relevant questions for all the characters that populate the songs on this recording, as well as for everybody listening. Shaw sometimes sounds like Dave Matthews but with a little more rasp, but where Matthews lets his voice fade into the ether, Shaw gets edgier and lower.
There are great rock moments when the band raves up a song with extended guitar freak-outs, but it’s not afraid to slow down or quiet down. The eerie “Pretty Photo” is ethereal, and “Upright” is ominously desperate, and they reflect the modus operandi of this fine album. City of Sound is full of ethereal moments but it remains energetic, down and dirty.