monoblogue music: “New American Century” by Midwest Soul Xchange

When I saw the name Midwest Soul Xchange, somehow it made me think of Motown and those ubiquitous hits from nearly a half-century ago. But this band of two players with Midwestern roots but distant addresses (Ryan Summers lives in Wisconsin while Nate Cherrier recorded his parts in Arizona) instead draws on a wide number of influences to create an album which sounds surprisingly tight given the manner in which it was put together.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to the effort is the song they selected as the sampler single, Roots. This somewhat ponderous track would not have been my first choice to introduce the band. Because I had a reviewer’s access, I first heard the lead song to the album called Set A Course For Common Worlds, a bouncier but midtempo song that to me is more representative of the overall sound. Another similar choice would have been Occupy The Piper, which features some nice harmonies within.

Nor was I completely sold on the tracks which served as the ballads, the closing song Four Score And Seven To Go and She Flies, which slides into a short rework of the chorus called The Return. These don’t seem to have quite the staying power as Kings Among Kings, which I enjoyed for the storytelling and wistful tone of remembering days gone by. It steps a little into Bruce Springsteen Glory Days territory with its concept but fortunately realizes that and runs away quickly.

I did find the pair had a sense of humor with the brassy, quirky song Has Anybody Seen Bob? As far as I know, they are still looking for the son-of-a-gun and that’s important because $63.05 is still a nice chunk of change. (You have to listen to get the reference.)

There are eleven songs on this debut album, which came out just before Thanksgiving. Although I’m not a Pink Floyd fan by nature, you could hear their influence in a couple of the songs I enjoyed most. Sun Dried has an exotic open that becomes a slow but heavy rocker with atmospheric keyboard and wailing guitars. Similarly, Truth Attention takes about a minute to kick in but has a good payoff in the end.

The album’s highlight, though, is the song immediately afterward. With its sinister-sounding keyboards providing a haunting melody to complement its pounding rhythm, Revolt Of The Guards seems to send the message of the band’s vision of the new American century. When the guitar outro comes in, it’s a song that gets your attention.

So while “New American Century” has a few weaker links, I still think it’s a well-crafted album. There is certainly enough potential there to anticipate more from these two in the future because the marriage of keyboards and guitar and its unique sound has been too long ignored in the music business. These guys have been billed as folk meets prog rock, but I think they lean a long way in the latter direction and that’s a sound we could stand to hear more of.

By the way – it’s sort of a cheat, but if you go the MSX website and sign up for updates you can download all 11 tracks so you don’t have to take my word for it – just listen for yourself.