Other old standbys are here as well, including the live favorite "Rock Like War" (the inspiration for fan-blog www.rocklikewar.com, to which I am forever in debt for supplying me with an unbelievable live track of Rustic playing Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer"). "Rock" is basically a song in two parts — war and peace, if you will. In the first half, digitally enhanced horn blasts pound through the speakers in the chorus, just after Gutter asks us to "Wake me up in the summer, not the winter." In the second half, "We can stand out in the storm and fill this bottle full of rain and sing along" with a gentle keyboard bounce and horns that "sing" a "nah, nah, nah."
Then get ready for a bang-up transition into track three, "Dear, Mr. President," a song that confers incredible power with nothing but a ukulele, acoustic guitar, and a simple bass line. In a nuanced and narrative collection of verses typical of Gutter's hip-hop-flavored writing, we are introduced to a stinging indictment of the war, in care of "a soldier with the 82nd Airborne stationed overseas/My family and my friends are praying that God is watching over me/ Even God can't save us now." The chorus runs reggae just enough to remind you of Marley's best populist moments. It's thrilling, really.
To put this track in such a prominent spot on their first disc in six years, to reintroduce themselves this way to a fan-base that's had plenty of time to move on, shows real guts and conviction. And lest you think this smacks of piling on, remember that Gutter and Roods' Paranoid Social Club was one of the first local bands to write and perform anti-war material following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Other new tracks include the uber-singalong "Troublesome," the biting and sarcastic "Black Leather Bag" (listen for Gutter's high harmony on the bridge), and the title track, which comes last at track 10, punctuated by piercing horns and a swirling keyboard part. As with many songs here, Rustic find a way to take dark material and infuse it with hope. Though "this wicked world is twisted sideways," "all things will turn around."
Oh, and speaking of hope, let me just say this: There is a hidden track, and Rustic nerds are going to freak out. Freak out to the point where you "can't stop laughing," perhaps.
The cut that gets me in full freak-out is "Carsick," with fat-bottomed horns and the single best chorus on the album, a wonderful mix of pleasure and nostalgia: "The radio is loud, but nothing's on." There's an extended instrumental break that shows you what the seven-piece band can do without a single solo riff, and then we're reminded, "If we drive slow/ We won't get there at all."
That's right, as Twisted Roots would say, "Brick on the gas." Next stop, Albany.