Hubbard has a smooth tenor voice that hits like a Midwestern Jason Isbell or Adam Duritz (of the Counting Crows)–the sort of lithe, confident voice that uses vibrato and other flourishes to display tension and emotion easily. “February” and “More I Live, Less I Know” are incredible vocal performances that are both seemingly effortless and also weighted down with the tension of years of woe. (Relatedly, these tunes have a kindred spirit with Bruce Springsteen’s work, both musically and lyrically–check “She Gives It Everything” for more proof.)
Musically Hubbard is a pro–the songwriting here is tight, the arrangements are impeccable, and the songs seem to roll off his guitar. The pickin’-and-grinnin’ “Straw Hat,” the Civil Wars-style ballad “Tired of Loving You,” and the Dawes-esque roots-rock tune “Come Tomorrow” are confident entries in their respective songwriting veins, despite being different from each other in a variety of ways. “And The Music” is the quiet end of his sonic spectrum, as stand-up bass thrums imperially to underpin a gently tumbling fingerpicking pattern and Hubbard’s most memorable vocal melodies of the record. The coda of the tune is the sort of melody that people latch on to and don’t forget, a “Ho Hey” for people ten years later.
That lyric that accompanies the indelible melody is representative of the lyrics throughout: “I remember when God left / and the angels left / and you were there / you were there.” The world-weariness, questioning of religion, and hope in relationships (in this case, an old friend) to get us through are all over the record. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, the lyrics push hard on the way the world is, could be, and perhaps should be. That’s the sort of lyrics I want to hear.
Hubbard’s self-titled record is a confident record of folk-rock from a veteran of the genre. It shows in strong songwriting, well-developed lyrics, and an overall sense that Hubbard was really going for it on this one. Dan Hubbard should be on your to-hear list.
In 2002, a wise friend handed me copies of Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head and Counting Crows’ August and Everything After. Inexplicably to my pop-punk self at the time, I became obsessed with both. Thus began an interest in modern pop music that extends to an unironic enjoyment of Goo Goo Dolls and Train. Judge away.
JD Eicher and the Goodnights falls between the acoustic pop of August and Everything After and the arena-sized pathos of Goo Goo Dolls. The band’s best songs aren’t quite as navelgazing as Adam Duritz’ increasing self-defeating tunes, but stop short of going for the John Rzeznik stadium singalong. The lesser tunes fall on either side of the divide.
Eicher opens the Crows-esque “Feel The Rain” with the striking, “Seems like every couple hours, it’s six a.m.,” and its subsequent description of breakup symptoms doesn’t beg for sympathy or employ bitterness. The rest of the band employs a similarly impressive restraint, teasing the listener with a soaring chorus that never arrives. The song becomes a highlight because it doesn’t command all the modern pop tricks. Subversive!
The melodic bass work on “Distance and Space” echoes the style of “Feel the Rain,” proving the bassist’s vitally important role in the band’s best songs. The acoustic songwriting in “Love is Gonna Find You” leans in toward Goo Goo Dolls drama, but Eicher keeps the arrangement tight and low: more featured bass, no sweeping strings, no chorus pedal.
It’s not all success. Openers “The Beauty of It All” and “Two Weeks Back” do let the arrangements go electric, and the songs suffer blandness accordingly. “Crazy” is an odd acoustic-rock turn. “Fine Line” is a bit too Five for Fighting cute to pique my interest, and “Easy” flirts with that syndrome as well. But the high highs make the middling tracks easy to pass over.
That oft-maligned, major label-infested genre of modern pop is a tough bag in which to make a go of it. But JD Eicher and the Goodnights are not perturbed. It feels that Shifting came about honestly: Eicher and his band just process music this way, and the greatest honest move they can do is make these songs in this way. In a genre full of cash grabs, kitsch and knowing winks, it’s a pleasant and unusual experience to know that Eicher and his band really mean it when they rock out at the end of “Mr. Misery.” That level of honesty and real pop songwriting chops make Shifting into the success it is.
Oh, and JD: Buy your bassist a beer. And don’t let him leave the band.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.