Album review: Douglas does alt-country, Duluth-style
Alt-country is one of those nebulous terms used to describe a band or a musician, and it generically means it’s alternative rock but with a little bit of a twang. Less New York City than, oh, Atlanta or something.
Silverback Colony is sort of like that, but it’s all very Minnesotan, and even specifically Duluthian at times. Bandleader Gabriel Douglas is a former Twin Ports resident, and he’s spent plenty of time in the area playing music, perhaps most notably with his well-loved group The 4onthefloor. But this is one of those “dude stepping out on his own” deals, even if the list of Silverback Colony collaborators looks more like the list of people lost on the Titanic.
The dash-country comes early on the project’s new album, “Sounds Like Silverback Colony: A North Country Soundtrack.” Douglas’ voice enters over an arpeggiated guitar, one that’s like Baby Bear’s porridge: not too hot, not too cold. “I just need to get this outta my head / I just need to retrace all the things that you said,” Douglas sings in his husky, raspy voice. There are hints of Springsteen and of rootsy Minnesotan guitar bands like The Replacements in their more pensive moments.
“Great Escapes” goes right for the Duluth jugular: “Oh, what a great city / on such a great lake,” Douglas sings. “I remember those hillsides / climbing them every night.” The music underneath jangles and rumbles, while Douglas claims responsibility for the blowing of the wind.
“Ships Passing in the Night” is an ambient instrumental that features a mournful slide guitar over gently tumbling drums. It’s an odd choice for the third track on the album, and it’s even odder when it comes back around for a reprise on track five, but it’s got a great cinematic vibe to it and an improvisational feel that is nicely unfussy. It sounds like musicians venturing out on a journey together, not quite knowing where they’re headed but enjoying the trip.
The track “Spoken For” slowly unfurls over its running time, with wordless moans in harmony lending the song a tattered My Morning Jacket feel. Eventually the music disappears completely and the chorus of “ohs” takes over until Douglas is solo, screaming, and the backing track soon comes blasting in behind him. It’s a high point, to be sure.
It’s not all rootsy, sad rock, though — “Quit Your Job / Join Our Crew” is simply a demented chant of the song’s title by a pack of dudes in the studio. It’s a quick, little goof-off track, but it’s a good palate cleanser and a bit of infectious fun. Things may seem serious at times, here, but there’s plenty of fun going on, too. Even when the chorus to a song is “She’s my Sacajawea,” rather than it seeming like a vaguely ill-advised lyric, it has a tossed-off quality to it that seems to charm rather than offend.
In all, it’s a quite solid album full of great tones (especially in the drum department), crisp tunes, and plenty of both alt and country, along with other seasonings. Fans of acts like Ryan Adams or Tom Petty or the Old 97’s should give this one a whirl.
Silverback Colony / “Sounds Like Silverback Colony: A North Country Soundtrack”
Produced by: Silverback Colony
Recorded by: Rich Mattson
Personnel: Gabriel Douglas (vocals, guitar), others
Listen to: “Great Escapes”
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.