By Mike Romero
Michael Barrow & The Tourists dropped a new EP last Friday, and true to the band’s word, it’s a lot more groovy. The band’s first record, Juneau, was a lush and clean indie folk record (read our review here). Their next release was a live acoustic EP called Santa Barbara Sessions. Just Barrow and a guitar, it seemed to double down on the band’s indie folk leanings. Imagine my surprise when I put on Something New and was greeted with electric guitars, soul organ, and drum solos.
“These songs are definitely different than what was on Juneau,” Barrow said in an interview with KSL. “We actually wrote ‘Sweet Honey’ during our Juneau writing sessions, but it just didn’t fit stylistically. So, we shelved it and came back to it. We’d play it at shows, and people were always asking for it to be recorded. So, we started writing some material in the same vein and discovered a new side to our sound.”
While the record definitely adds a new side to their sound, Something New is really something old: it draws upon timeless sounds to deliver a refreshingly familiar musical experience. Not quite blues, not quite soul, not quite rock, this record is best described as vintage Americana.
The record begins with a dusty anthem called “What Is It For?” Lyrically it touches on a love-sick delirium experienced after a fresh heartbreak. While the instrumentation in the beginning isn’t anything to write home about (as the chord changes are a little repetitive), the song builds quite nicely. The castanets are a nice touch, and drummer Reed Perkins knows how to work the kit, providing punch and variety throughout. The song’s climax is incredibly satisfying, with Mark Lanham shredding on the slide guitar – something we don’t really hear much of in the Provo scene. Barrow’s lyrics, as usual, are poignant. “I can’t feel like I used to, no not anymore / If my heart’s not for feeling then what is it for?”
“No Such Thing (As Getting Over You)” probably has the most heartbreaking lyrics of the entire record, but this is tempered by the absolute jam behind it. Guitarist Mark Lanham steals the show again with two impressive guitar features. The rhythm section is tight, and Collier’s Hammond organ is a nice touch.
The back half of the record features some more nuanced guitar work courtesy of The Tourists’ original lead guitarist, Trevor Harmon. Harmon’s work on Juneau was more compositional in nature compared to Lanham’s more unrestrained approach, and there’s no exception here. The title track is a retro 6/8 ballad with a great walking bass line from Alessandro Improta. Barrow’s vocals really shine on this track. It’s intimate and romantic, and really captures the vintage style the band only approached on the first two songs.
The EP’s two lead singles round out the record. “Never Stop” really highlights how well The Tourists work as a unit. There’s some interesting rhythmic interplay all throughout, and some truly surprising twists and turns. Harmon’s guitar solo soars, and he has some great motifs at the end. “Sweet Honey” is a bop, plain and simple. Perkins’ drum solo is well executed, and while the lyrics aren’t as deep as other tracks on the record, they’ll stick in your head for days. It’s good fun.
My only complaint with this record is the lack of layers. It plays like a live record with some slight studio touches. Even vintage Motown records had a lot more going on than this one does, and I can’t help but feel like this record doesn’t quite live up to its vision. However, it’s definitely a major step forward for the band, and is sure to surprise old fans while winning them new ones.
Michael Barrow & The Tourists has so much potential. They have a truly talented frontman coupled with a clearly talented backing band. Each band member receives some nice features throughout this record that highlight their abilities. The lyrics are emotionally resonant and “Sweet Honey” is a winner. I’m hoping that their next record ups the production value and fills out the arrangements while still maintaining the energy and emotion at the core.