Third album in, having supported a number of major acts in their time together, The Damn Truth deliver Now or Nowhere which could be construed as a last-ditch attempt to break big or simply as a band unafraid of the Covid pandemic’s attempts to put the music world out of business and giving it all they’ve got.
According to a press statement: “Now or Nowhere chronicles the band as they navigate life, love, and everything else in a world gone seemingly upside down and sideways during the past year.” So, it’s both that and a more personalised frame of mind they’re working their way through creatively, and spiritually. ‘This Is Who We Are Now’ was released as a single back in March. It begins as a racing drama before breaking out into waves of crashing chords as the song’s narrative takes hold, and is interrupted by anthemic choruses and an old school solo along the way. But you’re probably aware of that already as it has become a radio hit. A song about empowerment and inspiration, its sets an agenda we expect to be followed through, except there are diversions to that emotional imagery along the way. A bustling, often powerful rock band with hippy ideals but a certain modern outlook; they had the foresight to bring on board hot shot record producer Bob Rock to work on the bulk of the album, prior to the pandemic causing assorted restrictions, but of the three tracks that don’t involve him such engineering and production duties fell to other notables.
The band, featuring Tom Shemer on guitars, keyboards and mandolin, PY Letellier on bass guitar and drummer Dave Traina rock, shuffle and freak out more than comfortably as a unit. Though, for most, it’s female vocalist Lee-la Baum that will draw the most attention. Comparisons to Joplin and Slick are a lazy cop-out, but she does indeed possess tornado twirling tonsils that can soar and ruminate over stormy blues and hard soul numbers. Primarily it’s about the song itself, and the groove they make together. One suspects it’s Rock who’s tried to push them beyond that comfort zone; to look for radio hooks, dramatic turns and the bigger musical picture. Press releases note that the demo for ‘Only Love’, the album’s theme as it were, with lyrics like “Only love can keep us going, so if we hold on, it’ll be all right,” was melancholy in tone until the producer suggested refocusing its approach. Thus, while we begin with vocals and acoustic in an Americana moment, there’s soon a good thrashing of chords in a big old sing-along that might’ve come out of the early 90’s with just a little country flavour dipped in, and all bobbling bass underneath. Upbeat, aggressive and crying out against the woes of the world, while professing love conquers all (we can but hope) such musical changes were the right choice.
Likewise, ‘Tomorrow’ shifts between two styles. A slow inversion of Slash’s ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ riff greets us before Baum is at her most Slick-like while the band buzz like The Byrds, collectively reaching out higher in the chorus where they achieve a mainstream/crossover phase before an unexpected guitar solo that rocks out admirably. ‘Lonely’ has Baum humming a slow blues tune accompanied by guitar, that hum becomes whispered vocals then a full-on, low-down rage narration of personal misbehaviour and that done to her by others. It’s gutter-blues with a scuzzy freaked guitar dripping all over. By comparison, ‘Everything Fades’ is an acoustic driven nice change of pace; a pop-psych folk number, with assorted band vocal harmonies.
Drums roll out, a deep voice explains why a relationship won’t work and a hard rock strut with dirty psyche blues tones ensues on ‘The Fire’ but the song rarely breaks out of its mould. Whereas ‘Look Innocent’ with its falling and tumbling blues rock collapsing into country ballad turns out to be most interesting song on the album for its tortured emotional storyline, where all the promises of love look to now have the potential to turn sour. The verse about mundanely choosing which pet to have around the house crashing into a cheating, breaking heart chorus is particularly clever.
‘Full On You’ features another scattershot riff reminiscent of a million other tunes before splurging into bright and cheery big melodic rock. A statically charged snap, crackle and fuzzy pop of a guitar solo pours out, and continues to flow melodically through the song thereafter. With final track, ‘Shot ‘Em’’ there’s more of that folk ballad merging into rock vibe, with Baum’s voice highly reminiscent of Kiki Dee here.
The Damn Truth sit somewhere between 4 Non Blondes and a heavy version of The Bangles at times, though one suspects Bob Rock had in mind retooling a Jefferson Airplane sound into a sturdier Starship. Live you suspect on a hot sticky night with a bar close at hand they’re more than worth catching. On this record you can feel what Rock has brought to the table; these are good tracks but my feeling is they need to continue to think further outside the box.
Now or Nowhere is not a defining moment, but it is a stand up and be noticed one. Here in the UK, there’s been deserved attention given The Damn Truth, and with both UK dates of their own and as guest’s on King King’s forthcoming tour that rise in popularity looks set to continue.
- Review by Paul H Birch.
- Now Or Never is released via Spectra Musique and is available now.
- Official Website
- This Is Who We Are Now
- Only Love
- Everything Fades
- The Fire
- Look Innocent
- Full On You
- Shot ‘Em