The River and The Road’s sophomore release, Headlights, is heavily influenced by the sounds of the American South West, yet the band manages to reapply those distinct sonic influences of Bluegrass and Country and merge them with the Indie-rock sounds and misty mountain ranges of the West Coast. This marriage of sounds is a successful pairing that creates something new, yet also familiar. In fact, Headlights, captures just the right amount of country for a band that hails from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Andrew Phelan (Singer/Guitarist), Keenan Lawlor (Singer/Banjo), Cole George (Drums), and John Hayes (Bassist), deftly transition between country inspired rockers to quiet Indie ballads throughout Headlights. “I’m Broke”, easily an anthem for any Vancouverite, is a rocking song about the unexpected freedom and creative energy brought about by fiscal insecurity with lyrics like “boy I’ve heard you’ve got a dream, well you can’t hold a pen with money in your hand”. The lyrics are charming and entertaining; perfect for relaxing after a hard day at work – this music eases the blood pumping through tired legs and lets the beer go down crisper and cooler. The album then transitions into a beautiful acoustic based ballad, “Somewhere Far”, easily one of my favourite tracks on the album, this track yearns for escape, the need to go somewhere far, far away. The chorus of, “Let everything go/take me somewhere far” is sung beautifully over arpeggios.
Headlights overall seems to deal with many of the lyrical themes brought up in “Somewhere Far”, of escaping to a new place, and leaving an old life behind. The name of the album, and the name of the band itself seems to connote travel: the headlights of a car, not to mention that rivers and roads are both pathways. This album will hit home for anyone who isn’t quite content, for anyone who is looking for an escape; whether that be just a vacation or a completely different life.
“Strange Disease” is the penultimate track on Headlights. “Take me, take me somewhere better” cries the vocalist, wishing for anonymity over duelling banjos and guitar. It’s a song about a sinking friendship, or a break-up, the fact is there is always somewhere better to go and someone better to be. The song is instantly catchy and pertinent, the city where “no one knows how to see” is the strange disease. But it is welcomed, as long as it brings anonymity.
“Weakness” is a track that is drenched in the Blues. Dirty guitar and swindling vocals swirl throughout, and again the lyrical themes are about escape, except this time from an inner turmoil, and inner weakness that cannot be so easily overcome.
“White Flag”, the last track on this album is a sad note to end on, but beautifully composed with acoustic and banjo parts intertwining. “White Flag” seems to comment that escape is purposeless without change – and the sad part is that change is often harder than we think it is. “Days change/ I’m not fast enough to change with them” is sung in a whisper. Sometimes life just whizzes past and it feels like we are still standing still. It’s reassuring to know that others can feel this way as well, and it is in this way that Headlights despite being a sad album is immensely reassuring.
What Headlights does especially well is establish a sense of place, somewhere autumnal, somewhere misty and cold; whether that be a real geography or psycho-sphere, Headlights presents the listener with somewhere to escape from, either permanently or temporarily. Though the soundscape of the album varies between country and indie-rock, the lyrical landscape never shifts, giving it a grounded and real feel. Headlights is beautifully wrought, and is as at home playing in the background while at work in the garage or listening to while watching the pink glow of a spring sunset.
You can check out The River and The Road on Saturday May 9th at the Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto where they’ll be performing for Canadian Music Week.
By Cory Zydyk