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Two Gallants

Two Gallants

Saddle Creek

There's a knock on Two Gallants, it's that all their music sounds the same.

It's an easy, lazy statement to make. It's also easy to prove. Take someone who's never heard the band before and play a typical track from The Throes, their 2004 debut on Alive Records. Follow that with a song from Where the Toll Tells, their 2006 Saddle Creek Records debut, and one from this, their new eponymously titled follow-up. Now ask your test subject how the three vary musically and lyrically. First, they'll assume they all came from the same album; next they'll ask (eagerly) if all their songs sound like this. The answer, of course, is yes.

Like I said, it's an easy knock, and it's not fair, really. Two Gallants, the San Francisco duo of singer/guitarist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel, have crafted a unique sound that feels like a cross between '60s blues-rock, "The House of the Rising Sun" and modern-day pirate songs. Stephens' craggy voice and rolling, picking' electric guitar bend the music over Vogel's bright, almost militaristic syncopated marching-band percussion. The result is a slice of turn-of-the-(20th)-Century Americana merged with Delta blues and indie rock.

At the center of it all is Stephens' travelin' I-miss-my-woman lyrics that sound just as comfortable sung on the Slowdown stage as on the deck of a storm-battered clipper or behind the reigns of a covered wagon. A typical verse from opener "The Deader" sums it up nicely:

Oh now the raging sea she laps upon my door
I'll round a thousand horns just to drown upon her shore
Blood red roses go down Moses oh billowing sails
Those so weak-willed guts all sea-filled throw them o'er the rails

Aye, matey! Their style hasn't budged from day one, but that said, of the three albums, this is the one to own. Gone are the 8- and 9-minute ballads heard on early releases that seemed to go on forever. None of these nine tracks reach the 6-minute mark. That effort to economize, and the shift from rousing ballads to dark, ominous death tales, like "Fly Low Carrion Crow," make this the most varied and sonically broad record of their career. Within one song, the closer "My Baby's Gone," the music travels from deep, underwater, slow motion to emerge with a strut on dry land, Stephens testifying, "I go where cold winds don't blow / I go where nobody goes," before pulling back down to elegy pace for a repeated, pained whisper of "My baby's gone," that turns into an inspiring battle cry.

So maybe they have been singing the same song for years. I guess that would be a problem if that song wasn't so damn good.

back torevhead.gif (1924 bytes)   Posted Sept. 27, 2007. First published in The Reader. Copyright © 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Rating: Yes

Obligatory pull-quote: "So maybe they have been singing the same song for years. I guess that would be a problem if that song wasn't so damn good."