Denton, Texas alt-country band Slobberbone may have called it a day in 2004, but three of its members have gone on to bigger and better things by forming The Drams. If Slobberbone was like a drunk, sloppy estimation of early Uncle Tupelo, Jubilee Dive takes a quantum leap into poppy Wilco territory. Singer and lead songwriter Brent Best, guitarist Jess Barr and drummer Tony Harper from Slobberbone are joined by keyboard player Chad Stockslager and bassist Keith Killoren — both from Dallas’s Budapest One — on an ambitious collection of mostly great tunes.
You might not even recognize Best’s vocals on the harmony-laden opener “Truth Lies Low,” a bright, anthemic indictment of technology and consumerism that showcases Stockslager’s piano and assorted keyboards but doesn’t skimp on the guitar power. Second track “Hummalong” proves to be eminently hummable and features a great nagging guitar riff. It sounds something like the best Soul Asylum song they never wrote (back when they used to be any good.) “Don’t pave your path after anyone/ Where’ve they been before?/ You’ll play your song and they’ll hum along/ Straight-face, straightlaced, sore/ Face down on their floors,” Best sings. “Unhinged” is impossibly catchy as well, with pounding piano, gang vocals and buzzy guitars. The Drams also offer “You Won’t Forget,” a bouncy and ambitious suite, with a string and horn section interlude and some twinkly electric piano.
“Holy Moses” is a soulful Southern prayer with a surging piano and organ chorus and extended guitar pyrotechnics. Best’s vocals are more recognizable on “Fireflies,” a jaunty, Texas border-flavored number. “There’s good times to be had if you let ’em/ See the beauty being where we are/ Appreciate the fireflies maybe just in case/ You never see the stars,” he sings.
On the rough-hewn, acoustic guitar-based “September’s High,” Best seems to offer an assessment of how the nation’s post-9/11 resolve turned into the bitter quagmire of Iraq: “You keep saying you’ve been trying/ No denying, you’ve been wronged/ But there’s a million people crying/ Stop your lying, just come home.”
Best looks back on his rock-and-roll past with something less than fondness on “Shortsighted” and “Wonderous Life.” The former evokes life on the road in a band: “Let’s play the shit joints/ Let’s just make up the songs, as we go along/ Let’s do the right thing/ Just because it feels wrong.” The latter is an unflinching, graphic, Technicolor grotesque of the perils of alcoholism.
At 14 songs — six of which extend beyond the five-minute mark — Jubilee Dive is an overlong record and “Make a Book” may be one too many songs done in the band’s gang-sing style. It’s a character-driven, Thin Lizzy-like number with some inventive guitar work but at that point in the record, it’s just too much. They could have cut this one and a couple of others and come up with a more concise musical statement. As it is though, Jubilee Dive dramatically expands Best and company’s musical horizons and provides a slew of ear-catching tunes with something to say.
The Drams: www.thedrams.com