There’s a lot to like on Forever, the third album from Vandoliers. They play a hybrid country-punk that’s a bit too upbeat for No Depression and too gritty for traditional country, while pulling influence from a number of Texas musical styles along the way. It’s a six-piece group, complete with guitar, drum, and bass, but also fiddle, brass, and more. Throughout Forever, there are three main, familiar themes at play: being a rebel/outlaw, drifting, and blue collar down-and-out life.
It comes together best for the band in “Troublemaker,” the album’s lead single and the one that got me to dig a little deeper. The song takes the rebel spirit so inherent to country music, but adds a raspy punk vocal and a memorable hook. It burrows in your memory and demands you to sing along, “Troublemaker all of my life,” over the dominant bassline. Another standout is “Nowhere Fast,” which also directs the conversation toward the band’s versatility. This is more of an ‘80s pop-rock number, more Bruce Springsteen than Lucero. The horns give it a dramatic touch and the clean production really emphasizes that element, while the lyrics leans toward cliché at the big moments.
There are other influences too, like the Tejano horns that introduce “All on Black” or “Sixteen Years.” Throughout the record, the horns are used as accents more than being integrated into the melodies. “Shoshone Rose” shows some blues influence, “Cigarettes in the Rain” is a melodramatic ballad, and “Bottom Dollar Boy” embraces blue collar life with some extra country twang.
There are a lot of different sounds here, and Vandoliers excel when they pull them all together at once, as in “Troublemaker.” Maybe it’s a subconscious association (because Rancid titled their most recent album Trouble Maker), but I see a similarity between Vandoliers and Rancid in that both have an uncanny ability to insert a memorably chorus amid different hybrid styles. On a few songs throughout, the horn interludes feel more like distractions than depth.
There are moments of this record I really enjoy, but as a whole the crisp production feels counter to the rough-around-the-edges vocal style. Instead, it highlights the record’s more dramatic elements. While the tone of the songs themselves leans toward common folk, there’s a flair for the dramatic that feels more like it’s pointing a spotlight on a personality than reflecting the voice of the loner in a dark corner of a Texas highway bar.