I like to refer to Foundation’s self-titled record as campfire punk. It takes basic punk songs (often from the Ann Beretta catalog) and strips them down to the acoustic basics. In the process, Rob Huddleston doesn’t run them through the genre-grinder and spit out new alt-country or folk versions of old songs so much as he creates Ann Beretta Unplugged (insert trademark logo and legal disclaimers here). On Chimborazo, Huddleston’s solo moniker is back, but this time it expands the sound with the help of a backing band.
Change is bound to happen when you go eight years between releases, and the addition of a supporting cast to what started as a minimalist project is definitely going to make a difference. While the new record has a full band, the music is primarily acoustic and Huddleston’s lovelorn voice and lyrics remain on track. With harmonica kicking in immediately in the opening track “Begging to Bleed,” there’s a distinct Uncle Tupelo, country feel. The vocal delivery is soft and reflective. It’s upbeat, but the lyrics are a downer in a beautiful contrast. “Tonight Little Girl (You’re Mine)” ups the foot tapping twang with a simple walking bassline. It’s the sound you’d hear in the shadowy corner of a country bar. Again, the music seeps depression, but the chorus is somehow light and uplifting. Huddleston’s lyrics are well suited to country and the choice of backing music makes sense. Can you think of any other musical style to accompany a chorus of “The sun don’t shine like it used to shine on me”? Compared with a Tim Barry or Austin Lucas, Foundation’s approach varies in its focus on the band and backing music. It also shows more modern country influences, whereas the aforementioned artists draw more deeply from roots music than Huddleston does.
Mixed throughout are a few songs reminiscent of earlier work. “I Feel Fine” loses the country and brings simplified strumming with a minimal bass drum to the forefront, as does “Horseshoes & Hand Grenades.” At times, the band adds depth with electric instruments. In a couple of these, showy Guitar Hero solos take over, sounding something like the cheesier moments of the Hold Steady. This really doesn’t suit my fancy and pretty much ruins “Roses over Me,” the longest song on the record.
It took me a few listens to accept the new sound, but it has grown with repeated listens. The framework to Huddleston’s songs are the same, it’s just a fuller approach that presents more of a group feel than of a solo effort. Lost is the ballad feeling, replaced with a countrified lament more on par with what other punk singers have been doing of late. Not to say that the lyrics have suffered, but they feel less important as the backing music is sharing the spotlight. Besides a line or two referencing Ann Beretta lyrics, you’d be hard-pressed to find an aural connection between Foundation and its punk roots.
7.0 / 10
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