With their latest full-length release, Welcome Home, Durham, North Carolina’s Red Collar again delivers a modern amped-up take on Americana. Their 2009 album Pilgrim was among my favorites of that year and even though we’ve got a lot of 2012 left, I’m pretty sure that Welcome Home will find a place on my year-end list this year. It’s an unpretentious and unpolished-yet-uplifting blue-collar record that’s as honest as a firm handshake.
The jagged and angular post-punk of Pilgrim has been turned down a little, making Welcome Home a decidedly more even-tempered record than its predecessor. Sure, this is WAY noisier than any record Springsteen ever made, but the focus here is really on the great songs with big Heartland sized melodies… and loud guitars. Loud guitars and the occasional splash of piano (that is) to go along with massive sing-a-long hooks.
The overdriven rootsy guitars walk the line between the swagger of The Hold Steady and the introspection of Red Red Meat. These are songs that can make you want to drunkenly dance one moment and cry in your beer the next. Either way these are songs made for drinking to/with. Frontman J Kutchma’s wonderfully whiskey-soaked vocals also make everything even sound that much more tragic and beaten. It’s cross between Jon Snodgrass’ twang, John Reis’ sneer and Neil Diamond’s soulful croon.
Even though Welcome Home’s sweet spot is driving mid-tempo rust-belt rock a la The Replacements, there is a little bit of Southern twang and shades of Jawbreaker-y punk roughly woven into the early 90’s alt-rock fuzz that dances around its frayed edges. I hesitate to use the word atmospheric but the bouncing lead guitar lines that both anchor and propel Welcome Home forward are equal parts melody and airy texture. Heck, I guess everything about this record is just a little bit minorly epic (huh).
Welcome Home isn’t slick, but (rather) something closer to the opposite. It’s beautiful but it isn’t pretty. These are real and imperfect songs played with heart and soul by real and imperfect people. I find a little bit of perfection in that; in the unfixed bum note and occasional dragging beat. I can relate. So go right ahead and marvel at just how good everything the Tiny Engines label does is and then order up another round of drinks, stomp your dusty boots on the barroom floor and prepare to shout along. This is no exception. Welcome home.
RIYL: Restorations, Ninja Gun, The Gaslight Anthem, everything mentioned above, etc…