Review Summary: Dialing in that old time radio/Sayin', "Boys, they don't sing it like they used to!"
Punk rockers love
making stripped back Americana albums. With his debut solo effort, Gregor Barnett of The Menzingers has joined Laura Jane Grace, Dan Campbell (in two iterations), Brian Fallon (also twice), Chris Cresswell, and countless others in going back to the roots of their parent genre. Punk rock, Americana, and country music all originated from the blues, a common denominator that leads to good music more often than not, meaning that those solo outings have been mostly been successful, if not underwhelming compared to their main bodies of work. The Menzinger's frontman's first solo release ultimately follows that same trend. Barnett utilizes a full band sound that is more reminiscent of Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties (Dan Campbell) or The Horrible Crowes (Brian Fallon), although much more grounded than either of those offerings. None of this should come as a surprise, as Americana has always been in the undercurrents of The Menzingers music, to the extent that they released a fully campfire-ified version of their most recent album, but Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave
stands on its own - This isn’t just Greg from The Menzingers, this is Gregor
and he’s got a harmonica now.
Barnett went the solo artist strategy of going fully introspective on Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave
. This is the Southern Rock that Barnett’s grew up listening to and, as such, the album is inspired by past personal relationships, by family, by struggles with faith, and yes, by Covid. In other words, it’s an Americana album made in the 2020s. Thankfully, this also isn’t an acoustic lockdown album - The songs are full and dense, with the percussion actually being a highlight that serves as much more than just a rhythm section, which is what is typically all it’s expected to be in the genre. Will Yip’s production also leads to a number of welcome unique moments, such as the distorted shouts at the end of “Oh Lord, What Do You Know?” and a number of haunting moments on delta rocker “The First Dead Body I Ever Saw”. Barnett plays with song structures and melody in welcome ways, with the syncopated vocal lines on “No Peace of Mind to Rest” being a perfect example of a simple but effective play on musical expectations, especially when a harmonica solo is sandwiched in between them.
Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave
suffers the most when Barnett chooses to go too
Americana and imitates some of the pioneers of the genre - “Driving Through the Night” is Springsteen, “Talking To Your Tombstone” is Cash, “Anthem For the One I Love” is The Allman Brothers. Each of these sound as if Barnett is trying to write someone’s else’s songs, both musically and lyrically. If there’s one thing that both punk and Americana have in common, it’s that they need to feel authentic if they’re going to hit the emotional heights the songwriter aims for. It’s not that the three aforementioned songs don’t sound authentic, it’s that they don’t sound as
authentic as the other clearly personal songs found on Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave
, so they compromise the emotional integrity that Barnett is trying to create.
If anything, Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave
is an album that suffers in comparison to itself and particularly in comparison to one song: Closer “Guest In Your House”. While the rest of the album certainly offers a number of highlights, nothing hits the emotional or songwriting highs of the closer or, frankly, even comes close. This comparison isn’t to say that the rest of the album isn’t great, but instead serves as an indication of how powerful “Guest In Your House” is. Never have Barnett’s quivering vocals sounded more human than when he is casting a glance back towards his complicated childhood, leaning fully into lyrics that tell the stories of the people that raised him. Barnett takes a risk in not letting the song end in an explosion of sound that he seems to be teasing, and the song is all the better for it, as it lets the lyrics rightfully be the emotional payoff. Through both its music and lyrics, Don’t Go Throwing Roses in My Grave
tells us about the man who created the album. This makes “Guest In Your House” a perfect closer, as it tells us about the people who created that man and, no matter the inconsistencies that occurred before it, makes us want to hear more from him.