NEW INFLUENCES This Way.
Theoretically, Goodbye Forever is This Way's sophomore album, but you'd have a hard time identifying this as the same crew that produced 2008's We Could All Make History. Gone are the leather-jacket rock sound, the wailing guitar, the testosterone. In their places are a whole lot of acoustic guitar, wailing fiddle, and straightforward Americana.
Somewhere between Gypsy Tailwind and Willie Nelson and the Family Band, the new line-up is devoid of guitarist Max Cantlin (other than a late dobro turn) and is significantly altered by the presence of Anna Patterson, who lends backing/accompanying vocals to frontman/songwriter Jason Basiner on just about every song, and fiddler Andrew Martelle (he also plays some mandolin), who is probably most vital to the new rootsy sound. Yeah, you might be able to argue that Basiner has traded in one set of influences for another, but it's at least true that the new set makes the band significantly more interesting.
Not that the Springsteen and Mellencamp references Basiner became known for locally are completely gone from this album. On the opening "The Letter," his vocals are back-of-the-throat and reedy, as we might expect of a throaty rocker doing Irish folk, and the songs on the rest of the record mostly rest their success on how comfortable he can be in his delivery. The instrumental performances — particularly Martelle's playing — are never a problem, but listeners might at times feel overwhelmed by the instrumentation. Try to pick out the accordion, harmonica, and piano on "Letter" without having them completely blend together (and while ignoring the resounding '80s snare hits).
On "Take It All (or Leave It All Behind)," probably the best track here, Basiner sports clean and unaffected vocals behind a quick strum and a song with real energy. And Martelle's fiddle here is legit, quick and spry. "Feels Like Home" is very listenable country rock, too, where Basiner and Patterson bust out a brassy co-lead: "I'm out here on the frontlines/I can't afford to waste time." I even got invested in the lonesome-cowboy take of "Push on with No Regrets," where hearing the echo of the room is definitely a good thing.
"No Escape from the Train," though, has a bad-decision train sound recording of the Narrow Gauge in the open and would be in trouble of being completely saccharine if not for a home-run chorus. And "As One," a classic waltz take, should be stripped down much more to emphasize the song's heart and avoid distractions.
Regardless, there's more real emotion and songwriting here than on anything Basiner and crew have done to date. "The Reigning Blues," featuring a particularly melancholy fiddle, says it best: "The moment I falter is also the moment I fall." There's a little bit of a tightrope walk going on here, but This Way manage to stay upright and cross to the other side with a major step forward.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GOODBYE FOREVER | Released by This Way | with Jesse Pilgrim and the Bonfire + Kingsley Flood + Roosevelt Dime | at Port City Music Hall, in Portland | May 21 | thiswayband.com