August 22, 2008

On the Road to ‘Recovery’ ; Roger Bryan and Company Mark Release of New Disc This Weekend


Man, you think you know people.

I'd comfortably pegged Roger Bryan as our city's own version of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, an alt-country songwriter and performer with a neo-traditionalist streak a mile wide, and the perpetual seven-day facial hair growth to prove it.

With the Old Sweethearts, Bryan married his post-folk to a deeply creative production ethic, a full embracing of the rustic in terms of composition and performance. That band was so good on record. But it was perhaps even better in the live setting, where the roughshod immediacy, clear musical and personal brotherhood between the players, and the quiet dignity of Bryan's songs combined to suggest that, for once, a great Buffalo band was bound for greater glory. Maybe they'd be our ambassadors, a breakthrough troupe of rough 'n' tumble players able to stick it to the fashionistas of the big cities -- the types forever assuming Buffalo is just the punch line for a joke about lousy weather and zero tolerance for economic success.

Harbingers of a Rust Belt renaissance, maybe? Representatives to the world of our own little independent music scene, the kid sister always overlooked by the jocks picking up her cheerleader sibling for the prom, while she sits home alone? High hopes. We're good at that.

Instead of this imagined revenge fantasy/success scenario coming to fruition, the Old Sweethearts did exactly what so many of their Buffalo band brethren before them have done. They broke up.

Bryan released his first solo album, "The Engine Hum," in 2007. It was supposed to be a side project, a stop gap between the Old Sweethearts' last album and its next one. By the time he'd played a few gigs with the band he assembled to perform the "Engine Hum" material, the Sweethearts were sweethearts no more, the honeymoon having run its course and the unforgiving climate of a music industry in a state of collapse no doubt acting as the wolf at the door.

Bryan decided that this "Engine Hum" band would carry on. After all, the songs were still coming, the writing well showing no sign of drying up any time soon. Who wants to concede defeat when, artistically, things are going so well? Embracing the straight, nonmusical life and tossing your guitar under the guest room bed is overrated, anyway.

If you've got Matt Smith flanking you on stage, well, half the battle is won already. Smith is known to guitar aficionados in our neck of the woods as the coolest Telecaster slinger going, our own combination of Johnny Thunders and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, a dyed-in-the-wool rocker, and a nice guy to boot. Smith played with Terry Sullivan and the Headhunters, toured and recorded with Scott Carpenter and the Real McCoys, and manned the six-string during many a sweat- and beer-soaked Buffalo club night over the years.

Along with Smith came Ryan Besch and ex-Sweethearts Jeff Pietrzak and Erik Roesser, and the Orphans were born. Bryan kept writing, and soon, he had enough material for an album, which the Orphans began recording -- to tape, not computer, it should be noted, 'cause such things matter -- at Smith's home studio, Hi/Lo. By the dawn of the summer, they'd captured an LP's worth of tunes. They wrapped it, put a bow on it, called it "Recovery," and prepped for Saturday night's release party in its honor -- to be held, oh-so-appropriately, at Mohawk Place.

Old Sweethearts fans -- and if you haven't guessed, I was, and remain, one -- will be shocked by what is not so much a departure from that band's laid-back sound as it is a quantum leap forward from it. Less like the Band's "Music From Big Pink" or an Uncle Tupelo album than it is an in-your-face marriage of Replacements rawk and Alex Chilton's more raucous material reimagined 2008- style, "Recovery" is roots rock with a restless attitude. The musicianship is consistently excellent, Smith's production and Armand John Petri's mastering combine for a dip in the warm waters of analog, and Bryan's songs -- well, they're the finest he has written yet. "Recovery," indeed.

Bryan describes the album's title as dealing with "the struggles of a band and what happens when bands die; and the overwhelming urge to continue to create and start over."

New beginnings. 'Tis the season for them.

Roger Bryan and the Orphans, with guests Johnny Nobody, take over Mohawk Place (47 E. Mohawk St.) at 9 p.m. Saturday. The album will - - wait for it! -- be released on glorious gatefold vinyl. Each record -- I can finally call them records again! -- will come with an invitation to download the digital version for free.

e-mail: [email protected]

Originally published by News Pop Music Critic.

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