Some albums are merely good. Some are awesomely awesome. The Frontier Needs Heroes (TFNH) latest ‘Real Job’ fluctuates somewhere between good and awesome. If you are a fan of the Americana storytelling style of John Denver or Ray Stevens, you should go ahead and add this one to your playlist.
The album is only good because, yes, it wonderfully captures the style (fun anecdotes, political climate editorials, tracks that seem to last longer than the event being described), but, sometimes, the band seems to get either too lost or wrapped up in their own creations. At times, the music doesn’t change much from one song to the next, as if there is a formula to follow versus a song to share. Also keeping it in the friend zone are the song lengths. It’s not “November Rain” or “Stairway to Heaven,” but some of these pieces are a real investment of time. Whereas Gordon Lightfoot has the gift of musical variety, these guys have that whole occasional formula-thing goin’ on.
Thankfully, the Geiger counter also leans toward ‘awesome’ for this disc; the same elements that hold it back also push it forward. Brad Lauretti and Sadie Frederick’s vocals are a perfect match for the accompanying guitar, drums, violin, bass, pedal steel, and keys. Yeah, look at all those tasty ingredients! It all just flows together and feels comfortable. And even though the selection of style on these ten songs isn’t exactly a Golden Corral buffet, the forms they do wear fit like a glove. Perhaps variety is the spice of life, but spices can also give indigestion. The group knows the genre: enough said.
What really ices the cake is the subject material. Lauretti wrote all the songs and could be a short story writer when he gets tired of the stage. His views on the current political climate aren’t preachy and are much easier to swallow with a glass of good music. There are also emotions, camping trips (the two “outdoors” songs have their titles mixed up on the playlist ^editing gasp^), hope, change, and even the ability of catfish and cornbread to unite the populations. Their blasé control of the genre is good, but their ability to share an opinion and tell a story is better.
Whether it’s fate, Providence, preference or Whatever, ‘Real Job’ is a real attempt by TFNH to be real musicians in a style that is dying in the 21st Century. Maybe that is the real job here—no matter how good or awesome—to keep an art form alive. Lauretti captures their calling best in a lyric from “Colorado Camping Catastrophe”: they could be out doing the popular thing, “but instead I’m singing this story in a bar.”