Friday, December 16, 2016

Big Tribe - In This Together

Big Tribe - In This Together 

Second albums pose all sorts of difficulties. Does a band double down on what made the debut work so well, do they expand their creative horizons, or is it advisable to find some sort of middle ground between those two options? Big Tribe opts for the latter choice and it pays off on their sophomore release In This Together. Peter Panyon and his band mates Bonnie Eyler and Joe Heutte sound comfortable on every song, but the dozen songs on this release also find them pushing their creativity in often thrilling new directions. This is songwriting that’s not bound by any set rules or expectations and, working with that sort of personal freedom, it never strikes a false note even on the lesser compositions. Instead, no matter where their creative focus falls on a particular song, Big Tribe sounds confident and makes full use of their skill set within the context of each track.  

“Martha” is a fine way to begin the album and lets listeners know that this is far from business as usual. The lyrical content is open to multiple possible interpretations, but there’s a clarity here that allows various takes thanks to the specific details that Paynon works into his lyrics. The song certainly hints at a strong Dylan influence, but there isn’t an arbitrary line in the whole song – everything has a purpose rather than just a writer groping for a rhyme. The album’s quasi title song, “All in This Together”, marries rich vocal harmonies with a rock rhythm section that grabs listeners by the lapel and shakes them hard. Panyon’s distinctive vocals are in the lead role on this track, like the opener, and give it a character and tone that sets the band’s music apart from similar efforts in the field. Bonnie Eyler’s voice steps out for the first time, solo, on the song “10,000 Years”. This is one of the underrated gems of the album and the acoustic, low volume arrangement really gives the focus over to her beautiful voice. The writing, likewise, defies easy categorization – this is a song about many things, possibly, and it’s to songwriter Peter Panyon’s credit that its meaning isn’t easily parsed or pinned down. 

“The Final Boat Out” is another of the album’s best tracks thanks to its coupling of singer/songwriter, slightly folky, musical textures with shots of pure rock guitar bubbling out of the mix. The lyrics might remind some, thematically, of the first track, but Panyon takes this in a much stronger direction than we heard in “Martha”. “How the Mind Wanders” finds Eyler delivering what’s arguably the album’s most attention-grabbing vocal. This is thanks, in no small part, to the exceptional lyric that sounds like something Panyon lived through, perhaps numerous times, rather than some imaginative exercise. The album’s longest track, “Just a Boy”, has Eyler and Panyon alternating lead vocals to a spectacularly inviting effect. This is one of the warmest songs on the album and, despite covering familiar ground in terms of subject, it has its own take on the matter quite unlike other bands working in this vein. In This Together closes with a bit of a jokey, albeit quite affection, song entitled “The Boys of Autumn”. It’s a clever ode to Panyon’s love for baseball and the warmth and regard with which he holds the game comes through in a playful way. Big Tribe shows listeners a variety of musical faces on this release and they all hang together with coherence and musical quality. In This Together is a great follow up to their debut and sets the stage for Big Tribe’s continued evolution in the years to come. 

9 out of 10 stars 

Scott Wigley 

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