You’ve seen them in the Old Port, whether it’s just J Biddy, or as Crossfire Inferno, playing plenty of rock covers, slipping in originals more and more often recently. But with their brand-new We Could All Make History, featuring new songwriting energy from frontman Jason Basiner (a/k/a J Biddy) and work with Jon Wyman in the studio, they reinvented themselves as This Way — a new name for what they essentially feel is a new band.
Compared to Crossfire Inferno’s Restless, it’s easy to see the progression. The songs have been tightened up and focused, there’s more variety of sound and genre, and Basiner simply seems like he’s got more to say now. While he isn’t quite pounding out CSNY’s “Ohio,” there’s an urgency to his songwriting, a desire to tap into the collective consciousness, that wasn’t there before.
The title track is the most obvious example. Written after the Virginia Tech shootings, an ’80s rock vibe mixed with R&B/Hall & Oates flavorings moves into an up-stroke ska bit as Basiner manages to channel that near-universal feeling of simple stupefaction: How could people have let that happen? Maybe it’s naive to think that any one of us could have changed the course of the events that day, but when the chorus rolls around, and Basiner implores, “we could all make history,” it’s easy to feel empowered.
Musically, the album covers much of the guitar rock purveyed in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, with Max Cantlin doing a fair amount of shredding and Basiner moving from John Cafferty to Joe Jackson to Pete Yorn to Jack Blades (Night Ranger). The songs are most interesting when they play with the instrumentation a bit. “Riding to the Courtyard” has an “American Pie” guitar chunk floating underneath a harmonica bit, which is quickly joined by an active bass and a tambourine. Later, a toy xylophone counters the intensity of the second chorus, expertly amping up the tension as you wait in vain for a release. The Black Crowes-y “Survival” features a great piano melody from Jeff Merrow that would definitely work well for a boozy late-night crowd looking for some nostalgia. “Who’s Coming With Me” opens with a solid cowbell.
Much of the rest of the album is straight barn-burner, a little like the Brood at times, with plenty of vamp, but mostly songs made for leather jackets, motorcycles, and Jim Beam. This album isn’t going to change the world, but it will remind you there are plenty of things that are just fine as they are.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WE COULD ALL MAKE HISTORY Released by This Way | at Bull Moose Music, in Portland | December 9 | at the Empire Dine and Dance, in Portland | December 12 | www.myspace.com/thiswayband