The Strange Boys – Be Brave

Rating: ★★★½ ·

It’s been a little over a year since the release of their last album, but already The Strange Boys are returning with another album.  Here we find the local Austin heroes doing their twangy R&B meets country on Be Brave.  This time, however, the boys don’t seem nearly as rambunctious, instead they’ve chosen to slow it all down, spending a lot more time with swinging numbers that might just have you wrapping your arms around your favorite pal (or lover) as you swing them to and fro.

There’s an elephant standing in the corner of the room, and it’s best to get that fella out in the open right away.  Singer Ryan Sambol doesn’t have the most pristine vocal styling, and some might even call it grating at times. But, despite the fact that he never seems too polished, there is an underlying bit of charm behind such an approach.  It seems rooted in the tradition of singers who had very little traditional training, but put every ounce of emotion into their performances.  That being said, it is not a vocal style for everyone.

The first song to really put the listener on notice has to be “A Walk on the Beach.”  At first, the song seems to stumble through the first two minutes, as Sambol does his warble croon over  a light guitar track.  But, once that two minute mark hits (1:32 actually) you get a quickened pace, almost as if a train’s coming for you.  Just as soon as you get there, you get a switch, as the boys turn into a twangy swing band.  The music isn’t really swing, but you can feel the band twisting and turning you with each guitar chord, and after all, there is a blaring horn.

One of the things about Be Brave that shows a bit of a shift in musical strategy, as alluded to earlier, is that the slow burners here have a lot more of an emotional appeal this time around.  Take “Between Us” and play it on your back porch while you’re drinking with your pals, and you’re guaranteed to have your arms around each other laughing at old tales of glory.  It just has a sort of swing that gets you into cherishing times past.

The Strange Boys clearly have discovered that they can continue along the lines of their self-created genre while still pushing their sound, and their career for that matter.  “Dare I Say” is a wonderful tune, and it’s probably one of the simplest numbers on the record.  There’s a touch of barroom piano, but mostly it’s just guitar and vocal; it remains one of the more “mainstream” tunes they’ve tossed out. It’s also the song that kicks off a steady string of slow, yet solid, songs.  From this point until the end, you’ll find mellow numbers that seem more like solo affairs than anything else.  Funnily, “All You Can Hide Inside” sounds like The Strange Boys covering Jeff Buckley, yet you’ll still find it enjoyable.

Be Brave comes to you with little press, at least in contrast to …And Girls Club, yet for those who listen closely, it’s the most complete recording The Strange Boys have managed to put together.  Aesthetically, it remains the same, but it’s their ability to find the groove from simple guitars and vocals that manages to make this album more successful than the last. Cheers boys, you’re doing us Austinites proud.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/08-Dare-I-Say.mp3]

Download: The Strange Boys – Dare I Say [MP3]

2009 Top 50 Albums

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Creating a Top 50 Albums list is never easy.  You have to battle with what you think the world believes, and what you truly believe in your heart, to be solid jams.  We have even more trouble because we have to three writers, all who have different ideas, and we have to make those ideas fit into a neat box.  Well, we got it done, and honestly, our criteria was based on two things: how great we thought the album was, artistically speaking, and how long we listened to it without getting bored.  That’s it. It’s fool proof; you might not like it, but it’s our list, so here it is… Read more

Top 10 Austin Albums Of 2009

1204top5coverWe thought about this long and hard, thinking over our favorite releases from bands located in Austin over the last year.  Blood was spilled, jabs were thrown, but overall, we feel like we got our hands around the best releases that we feel epitomized the Austin scene in 2009.  Don’t forget, we’re particular to our tastes, so while you may disagree, we reserve the right to stand by these ten acts and their albums from 09′.  Follow the jump for full list.
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Strange Boys – and Girls Club

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

Austin’s very own The Strange Boys finally have an album for everyone to share with their friends, though we suggest doing so in a legal manner.  After all the waiting, we finally get to see what these young gents have to offer us all; it’s precisely what we all expected, and this is meant in an endearing fashion.

One of the first things most listeners will come across is that the album sounds a bit muddy, as if the boys dragged these songs from beneath a rock on the patio of your favorite dive bar. It’s a taste that most listeners will have to endure, but many more will find rewarding.

Similarly, listeners will likely complain that singer Ryan Sambol’s vocals are a little bit shattering.  At times his lyrics are downright hard to decipher, drowned in a Southern sort of drawl, and drawn out until the very last possible syllable.  Still, if you give it a bit of love and devotion, it’s bound to worm its way into your heart.

Where precisely would one place the music on this record?  Besides Austin?  Well, step back into the storied history of a struggling middle class during the sixties.  Turn right just past the nearest alley, and walk into the dingy bar filling with smoke as we speak.  Here you will find the band and their album and Girls Club. It’s a dense sound, filled with frustration, fear and a destiny all of its own; a destiny soaked, more often than not, in debauchery.

Similarities abound, especially when one focuses on some of the melodic moments, such as the guitar during “No Way for a Slave to Behave,” which resembles the last era of the great American sock-hop.  It swings you left and right, as you grab the girl nearest you.  If it didn’t have that raw emotion and production, one might find such a song on American Bandstand.

Blues and R&B elements are also in abundance, making one reminisce for the legendary days where teenagers snuck off to cozy up to their romantic interest such as on the song “This Girls Taught Me a Dance.”  Even with such elements, they band pull out little rays of sunlight with the guitar work, creating moving songs intended for masses motivated for the subversive culture.

Combine this all with various other classic rock n’ roll elements, and by that we reference Chuck Berry, not your local station that plays everything by the Eagles.  It’s a fusion of everything dirty about the story of rock n’ roll, and even the lyrics seem to draw from a day when causing a ruckus was more of just a good time as opposed to a violent act.  Stories of stealing girls from their man along with serving time don’t seem to revel in senseless crimes, rather the need for diversion in the sterile world.  Use hit song “Heard You Want to Beat Me Up” as an example for such lyrical meanderings.

And the story is written.  You find yourself slowly warming up to a band intent upon returning to the day when music not only had artistic elements, but moments devoted purely to the enjoyment to those on stage and in an audience.  Every twist and turn, every influence, and every word will make you yearn for precisely the same thing, and you’ll want to share it with the band.