Album Review: The Vagabond Union
Artist: The Vagabond Union
Album Title: The Motel Sessions
Eschewing hipster clichés, the Vagabond Union forge ahead with meat-and-potatoes country rock on their debut album, The Motel Sessions. Consider that high praise. At a time when solid, old-fashioned rock & roll is becoming harder to locate in the glut of bearded indie folkies, the Vagabond Union convey no shame in unveiling their bar-band tastes. However, unlike the garage revivalists that tried to awaken the heart of rock & roll a decade ago, the Vagabond Union are not punk or even post-punk. Rather, this is an independent act that has no problems swimming in mainstream waters.
Featuring Dave Hedeman (vocals, guitar), John Kenney (vocals, guitar), and Dave Cannon (drums), the Vagabond Union is basically a trio with some notable guests on The Motel Sessions, especially two members of Carbon Leaf. Hedeman and Kenney exchange songwriting and lead-singer duties, giving the group a more versatile sound. The opening track, “Blue Shoes,” oddly recalled R.E.M. at first but not really for the music. It wasn’t until the track revved up its tempo that Kenney’s vocal resemblance to R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe became apparent. Its enigmatic lyrics, open to various interpretations, and moody textures reveal a group that is embedded in alternative rock, an observation that is later shot to pieces as the band proves itself to be more eclectic than that.
By the second cut, the ultra catchy “Drive,” the group proudly displays its commercial side. The song’s theme of small town escape is definitely in the spirit of Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey narratives, and the band does a much better job of echoing the Boss’ slice-of-America portraits than the Killers did on their second record. What seem to be the band’s influences – R.E.M., Springsteen, Tom Petty, Social Distortion – rise to the surface; nevertheless, the Vagabond Union has carved their own distinct identity. Even when the group covers P.F. Sloan’s protest anthem “Eve of Destruction” (popularized by Barry McGuire in 1965 and later the Red Rockers in 1984), they strip it down and make it sound like a Vagabond Union tune.