The RMR crew very rarely issue a full review for an EP. There are exceptions of course, but those are few and far between. A feat that the US-based multi-instrumentalist Rick Lambert of Empty Trail pulled off with his earlier 2014 record Hollow Hearted. And deservedly so, rugged quality and all.
This, of course, kept us interested in more rocky delights from this specific neck of the woods. And – lo and behold – here we are with new material ready to be reviewed.
Now, all things evolve and so does Empty Trail.
It is only in 2016 that the band released the debut full-length album Bare. The style still boasts this slightly Stoner-esque and – I daresay – grunge-infused brand of hot, sunshine-bleached desert rock. A cocktail served with just enough of a swagger to keep the interest levels up, order another beer and enjoy the tune whilst looking out over the reddish mesa.
On the upside, Bare presents you with much more bounce than the former EPs together. And a refreshing increase in maturity compared with Rick’s former pieces of work. A lot of the rough edges continue to show their sharp teeth and you’ll still be able to detect some of the grungy flavors of Alice in Chains in the overall jam.
However, this same newfound maturity comes at a price for this record: The band smoothed out a lot of the aforementioned roughness that was so prevalent in the preceding EP. In fact, the decidedly scratchy, vinyl-laden taste of Hollow Hearted got pretty much canned. And in its stead, we find something much more attuned to the vile mainstream. But then – so I understand – this is exactly one of the aims of the new album.
How did they call it?
Audience-oriented, I believe. Gotcha! But then I am unsure if this is going to provide this much-needed quantum of rocky energy to really come through and dance out there at the edge.
On the other hand, Bare injects a lot of variety and extra care into songwriting and structures. Each track centers around a slightly different flavor and this is exactly how it should be. On top, Rick really pulled out the stops on some of them tracks, injecting a few stellar solos on the go. Just go ahead and fire up Rust or Hold on Today, this is noteworthy stuff.
Some other tracks are of real stellar quality, like The Lips of Serenity or the progressively tinted and dreamy This Place I’ve Created. These two really shine with easygoing complexity and a pretty sturdy song structure.
And this brings me to an interesting point (or weakness) Bare saddles us with.
All efforts at variety notwithstanding, right down to about mid-point most tracks play at the same mid-tempo pace, similar levels of loudness, similar structure, and similarly tuned instruments – you name it.
Too much use of the word similar for you?
This is exactly the point. This changes somewhat further down the tracklist with some better experimentation. The vocals also go down this very same road of similitude, leaving the listener with this uncanny feeling of déjà-vu in a weird, geeky kind of way. And this is a pity, knowing that a lot of effort went into creating a distinction to render things really interesting.
To conclude, Bare delivers a mixed bag of goodies to the fan base. The record features a number of fun tracks, whereas others slither dangerously fast down this mainstream toboggan ride into the slushy mix of audience-centered virtuousness. On the other hand, Emtpy Trail send you a much more mature – or should I say – a more refined slice of rock compared to former releases.
I enjoyed listening to the record but missed the stout and somewhat hard-bitten freshness of earlier works. To use the band’s own words – and I quote “…Empty Trail looks forward to creating a hype of local rock enthusiasts around the Austin area…” is exactly what the record delivers. You’ll picture yourself sitting in the bar, sipping a beer and kind of rocking along with the band’s performance. But no more. And this is a pity.
But the more important question is: What will be next?
Record Rating: 5/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Official Site
Release date: 5 August 2016