New CD reviews: We the Kings, Bottle Rockets

  • Updated: January 6, 2014 - 2:37 PM

POP/ROCK

We the Kings, “Somewhere, Somehow” (Ozone/We the Kings)

Despite Travis Clark’s sweet-sounding vocals, We the Kings has always been a scrappy band.

So when the Florida band decided to fund its fourth album through an Indiegogo campaign with the help of its fans, it was no surprise the boys got the job done. What is surprising is how much they improved after going it alone.

“Somewhere, Somehow” is the band’s best album yet, filled with strong pop hooks and pristine production. “We could rule the world, own everything,” Clark sings on “Queen of Hearts,” one of three strong songs he co-wrote with Steve Shebby, who also co-produced the tracks with him. “I’ll be the Jay Z, you be the B.”

While many of their Warped Tour contemporaries, like Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco, have opted to try out other genres, We the Kings have decided to continue to hone their sound, making everything catchier and harder-hitting.

“That Feeling,” another Clark-Shebby collaboration, pushes hard on the galloping, thumping verse and bridge, before leaning back for the sweet chorus. Soon, it’s off to the races again, which is a clever way to approximate the feeling of young love they’re singing about. It’s that extra layer of artistry that makes “Somewhere, Somehow” sound so much more impressive than its predecessors.

On “Art of War”— which Clark wrote for the recent “Hunger Games” soundtrack, though it wasn’t used — the band shows how it can add depth to the lyrics while staying on a chosen course. On “Somewhere, Somehow” they’ve made it.

Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Bottle Rockets, “Bottle Rockets” / “The Brooklyn Side” (Bloodshot)

Falling somewhere between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Merle Haggard is not a formula for popular success. But that too-rock-for-country, too-country-for-rock approach is part of the charm of the Bottle Rockets, who at their best tell sharp-witted stories of working-class life without a trace of condescension or irony.

The Missouri band was certainly at its best on its first two albums, from 1993 and 1994, back in print on this two-disc set.

The self-titled debut established singer-guitarist Brian Henneman, a former roadie for Uncle Tupelo, as a refreshingly unaffected songwriting voice that to this listener holds much more appeal than those of Tupelo’s celebrated Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Is there a more plaintively devastating song than “Kerosene”? With “The Brooklyn Side,” the Bottle Rockets really delivered on the promise of its predecessor, as grabbers like “Welfare Music” and “1,000 Dollar Car” highlighted a masterpiece.

Each disc comes with numerous bonus tracks, including demos, outtakes and covers.

Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer

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