We’ve made it another year. Red Sammy’s Vultures, released at the end of 2021, celebrates the resilience of the human spirit in horrifying times. The soul of this album refines Americana as forward-thinking indie folk-rock for a new musical age.
Yes, that’s a weighty statement, but hear me out. In his ninth release, Baltimore-based songwriter Adam Trice leans into heady artistry: much like Bob Dylan sprinkled with Tom Waits and Deer Tick; shaken, not stirred.
Rich sonic textures and compositional minimalism shape the eight songs of Vultures. Each lyric has room to embrace each note, surrounded by the songwriter’s intention to take us all on a beautiful psychedelic awakening. Stunningly purposeful, Adam Trice leads the existential (but drug-free) journey on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and lead vocals, along with Bruce Elliott on electric and slide guitar. Greg Humphreys’ bass and backing vocals with David Pearl’s drums, percussion, and backing vocals frame a stark backline.
Lead single “Kerouac Revisions” with its sarcastic attempts at adulting hits a chord. Who hasn’t been young and dumb? Not everyone achieved great heights of stupidity, but guitar anthems can. Trice and co. pull us in, regardless of where we come from. “Heart” feels like The Andy Griffith Show slipping into a darker truth. This track dramatically highlights a “less is more” vibe via hollow guitar solo and a black hole voice.
“Gonna Be Alright” is the song of the record. Subtle, honest, haunting, and real, the track is like a warm embrace screaming at the end of the world in calm defiance. Where were you when the world moved on? Simple, repetitive, and soothing, the instrumentation is a masterclass in emotive storybuilding creating the vehicle for raw vocal emotions. This track is flawlessly executed in its lyricism, composition, and performance.
“The Weight the Kids Must Carry” seems surreal in its realistic appraisal of our world today. The song’s narrator indulges in cynical soothsaying. As an adult, Trice twists his vocal delivery into the songwriter’s pain, shining a spotlight on the pandemic world from a parent’s perspective. Folksy and yet full of hope, this track’s tone cannot disguise the crisis our kids are facing. Elliott’s slide and electric guitar make traveling music out of the horror, but that can’s change the fact that our kids don’t have the tools to cope with the fear and anxiety of the past two years. “Lyin’ Low” carries the Vultures title track duties as an ominous warning to playing it so safe that fear drives inaction. It has a cadence reminiscent of a downtempo incarnation of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” It’s all about expectations; in the end, vultures always wait for the weak to call it quits.
Chant-like juxtapositions drive “In Balance,” with its aura of spirituality mixed with episodes of psychotic breaks in the midst of medication. Who hasn’t felt this way since the waves of death called COVID-19 tried to rip at our collective sanity? Heading out of Vultures, “Can’t Put You Down” feels like an acoustic atonement for being out of touch. A bit of Rivers Cuomo bleeds through this one. We have seen the worst of ourselves, watching each other. For those unfamiliar with Trice and Red Sammy, even title capitalization is an important clue. Wiith “God is Good and so Are His People” pays homage to the evils witnessed, with unapologetic Johnny Cash style and soothsayer’s vision.
A precise summation of the last two years, words inadequately represent the gritty musical artistry. The album is reminiscent of Silas J. Dirge’s The Poor Devil, my favorite of 2021. Telling it like it is, songwriter Adam Trice captures the best (and worst) of who we are, note by note, in the Great American Songbook tradition. Red Sammy’s Vultures shines as one of the best journals of our brave new world.–Lisa Whealy