Let's be up front: I like Dryve's debut album on Sarabellum Records, but not for the reasons that I typically like an album. Usually, my appreciation of an artist's work has more to do with lyrics than music. In fact, I can often reconcile myself to listening to musical styles that I wouldn't normally enjoy if the artist involved writes lyrics that intrigue me.
Case in point: my introduction to Daniel Amos. I had never heard of DA when a friend of mine handed me the record sleeve for Alarma. I read Terry Taylor's lyrics and remarked to my friend, "these are good stuff." Then he put the record on: new wave rock-n-roll. I almost felt cheated because, up to that point, I hadn't been a fan of new wave. That I did learn to appreciate the stripped down, guitar-oriented new wave sound was a result of my liking DA. And I have continued to be a fan through DA's myriad of style changes in subsequent albums, largely because I appreciate Terry Taylor's lyrical ability and imagination.
But all that has little to do with why Thrifty Mr Kickstar has spent so much time in my CD player. What has kept me listening is the intriguing sound of this band from San Diego.
This is not to say that Dryve's lyrics don't interest me, but their lyrics are cryptic. Often I have no clear idea what they are singing and writing about. Part of the subtlety in the lyrics comes, no doubt, from the band's history of playing in clubs, which isn't conducive to a high Jesus-references-per-minute count. Not that the faith of the band's members is a secret: "And Jesus, with arms wide open, He receives us, when we ain't ready . . ."
Not all of the songs are difficult. There are some pretty straightforward songs about relationships ("It's My Fault," "Television," and "Heart of This," for instance). There's also "Whirley Wheel," which I eventually figured out uses those magical experiences of childhood like carnival rides as a metaphor for all the ways we search for quick fixes for our problems and struggles, or search for ways to hide our weaknesses: "I'd cheat like sin to find a way to whirl away the hurt and find a light and blur the dirt . . ."
But there are also songs where I haven't the faintest notion what they're singing about. The title cut is the most cryptic to me. Who is Mr Kickstar, "the king of guitar," the "mess in my connection, the hole in my soul that's waiting to explode"? Other favorite artists can puzzle me with lyrics, but not like Dryve does.
Which brings me back to what keeps me listening.
What is going on here is some good basic music. There is a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, with lead work that isn't trying to dazzle with dexterity and virtuosity. Hammond organ, accordion, and a taste of harmonica round out the instruments. There is also some gorgeous vocal harmony work, particularly on "Nervous." There are some angst-ridden tinges, as in "Television." At times the lead vocal work is plaintive and haunting. I can hear hints of the Eagles in the guitar work and the vocal harmonies on "It's My Fault." The harmonica, the Hammond organ, and the cryptic lyrics are to my mind reminiscent of the Slow Train-era Bob Dylan.
Dryve fans who have managed to get a hold of the band's earlier independent work will find the songs on Thrifty Mr. Kickstar to be less diverse in style than the songs on Hum, but folks who listen to Thrifty Mr. Kickstar won't be bored by hearing ten songs that sound all alike. Sometimes the band does the jangly guitars sixties-throwback thing, like in the song "Nervous." Sometimes the band rocks out, as on "Television" or the title cut. There is "Manifold" which starts out with a slow simple strummed guitar and a plaintive electric lead and a vocal mixed to sound remote. The song gradually builds to a soaring guitar solo layered over electric organ before fading away again.
Masaki Liu (of Dime Store Prophets) handles the production work and contributes some violin to one of the cuts. There's a lot of different stuff to like in this album, and it should appeal to a wide variety of people. Check it out, and if you get the lyrics to some of those songs figured out, let me know