There’s a moment on Sadler Vaden’s new album where he sings, “No one asks if I’m doing alright / Does anybody seem to care? / I’m just trying to get through tonight, so tell me / Tell me, is there anybody out there?” It’s the title track to Vaden’s sophomore LP, Anybody Out There?, and though it may come across as a plea for help, it’s more likely that it conveys something else entirely. Vaden is a self-professed rock and roll nerd; he’s a guy who has been playing music since he was 10 years old and who’s managed to create a life centered around what he loves. When he gets to the chorus on “Anybody Out There?” — a track that sounds like something Led Zeppelin might make today — he’s not crying out for some assistance. He’s looking at the world around him and saying, bluntly, “I know that you’re all talk / So I’m walking home again.” As long as Vaden has rock and roll in his life, he doesn’t need anything else.
That devotion and love to rock is strewn throughout the record, and it manifests itself in many different ways. From the Zeppelin-esque title track to the Pink Floyd-tinged “Curtain Call” to the Joe Walsh-inspired “Golden Child,” Vaden shares his influences with a certain sense of pride. But Anybody Out There? isn’t a tribute record to the rock eras of the past; it’s something much deeper and more important. “I wanted to take a little more of a deeper dive into my songwriting with this particular record,” he said when it was first announced. “I’m going into my mid-30s. A lot of it just seeps in naturally, but with everything that’s going on in our culture and our society there were some things I felt like I wanted to say.”
That endeavor comes through most clearly on “Good Man,” a near-autobiographical tune for the guitarist and songwriter. “I used to stand aside and turn my eye to what was wrong,” he sings as he looks toward some type of hope. “The veil has lifted up on what I’ve overlooked so long / But through the clouds I see clear water for all our future daughters.” Similar sentiments cover what is no doubt the highlight of the record, “Peace + Harmony,” an unforgettable tune co-written with Aaron Lee Tasjan that confronts the vitriol spewed across the political aisles while offering a glimmer of, well, peace and harmony.
Though Vaden has spent much of his time over the past several years as the guitarist in Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit — and he has proven he’s one of the greatest guitarists in the scene today — he’s always been working on his own music, too. In 2016, he made his debut with his self-titled LP, and since then has released a handful of singles that continue to showcase an inherent self-awareness in his writing, as well as an uncanny ability to craft instantly catchy hooks.
And now on Anybody Out There?, he’s created a listening experience that will never fit neatly into any one genre, but will stand out as his finest work to date. Does it get any more rock and roll than that?