Brian Whelan

Three Moves Equals A Fire, 2012

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The thing I’ve always appreciated about Brendan Benson (for example) is that it seems like he didn’t just listen to classic rock and then try to imitate it; he absorbed the Byrds and the Beatles and the Stones and the Who and Roy Orbison and Tom Petty and the rest through his pores, injected them into his bloodstream and let them run wild as he was in the process of creating something new that draws from all of these influences and more, but feels fresh and timeless rather than stale and derivative

Brian Whelan is kind of like that.

Decider—the Los Angeles singer-songwriter’s solo debut after making a couple of records with Brokedown (a.k.a. the Broken West) and playing in Dwight Yoakam’s touring band—is classicist guitar rock with country-rock and rockabilly shadings, confidently occupying similar musical space to guys like Benson and Marshall Crenshaw.

The opening title track is a muscular, hooky tune with nice drive that adds a 12-string behind the chunky main riff that later feeds into a dreamy, almost psychedelic solo at the bridge. That loose, sunny vibe immediately gets more play on “Everything,” a gentle, soaring tune that feels like if might have fallen off the back of a Roy Orbison/Jeff Lynne collaboration.  “High And Lonesome” moves a little closer to the ground, a funky little guitar boogie that chugs along under falsetto vocals that give the whole thing a playful, slightly unhinged edge. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Here and throughout, Whelan’s songs are concise statements, carefully carved little jewels that make their case in two and a half to three and a half minutes and then move on down the line.  Decider goes by quickly at 10 songs and 32 minutes.

Next up is a terrific cover of country-rock singer-songwriter Mike Stinson’s gorgeous “Brand New Love Song” that frames the tune’s poignant lyrics with Byrds-ish 12-string flair. Doubling up on covers of LA bar-scene compatriots, Whelan delivers a stinging take on Tom Gilkyson’s honky-tonking ode to small-town life “Mojave High” (“Living out here’s like living in the moon… ” but “You know I’ll never leave it, I don’t have the heart to roam”).

“Sharp Teeth” fuel-injects Eddie Cochran-type rockabilly with meaty guitars and familiar subject matter: “The sharp teeth of love will eat you up again.” The pleasant surprise is the way the song blossoms at the chorus and opens up for Whelan’s ringing, lyrical solo. And the musical touchstones keep coming… “Nickel And Dime” is a slinky, playful little barroom blues. “All Business” crosses a ringing 12-string lead with a wide-open rockabilly rhythm section that lends the entire affair a strong Marshall Crenshaw feel, like Buddy Holly reimagined by the Byrds.

Closing on a high note, Whelan delivers “You And Me And Everything In Between,” which opens with a smoky, Knopfler-esque guitar line over a shuffling rhythm section, building tension steadily as the song progresses. It makes for a taut and thoughtful end to this album full of thinking-man’s roots-rock, a catalog of failings, dodges and deceptions that illustrates the human condition as only a great bar band could. Brian Whelan knows where he came from, and I like where he’s going.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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