Album Review

Songs of Sweet Subversion: The Revivalists' New Record

The Revivalists - Take Good Care

Any sign of subversion is welcome. The Revivalists, an eight piece band from New Orleans, are advertising in a seductive combination of neon and homemade paint. As music becomes increasingly programmatic, and the robotic algorithm becomes increasingly hegemonic over taste, all but eliminating possibilities for excitement and discovery with many young listeners, The Revivalists aim to resuscitate eclecticism in the context of the popular song, and much like their musical hometown, maintain lineage to the odd but beautiful American tradition of integration. Most of the time, much to the delight of anyone within earshot of their new record, Take Good Care, they hit the target. Most impressive and enjoyable is that they manage to do so – incorporating influences ranging from blues and funk to jazz and country – while presenting a modern alternative rock. The bridge between sounding contemporary and fresh and rustic and familiar has a home on the map of The Revivalists, and Take Good Care offers the full tour.

When I spoke to Zack Feinberg, lead guitarist of The Revivalists, he attributed part of the diversity of his band’s sound and style to the variety of personality within the band itself. With eight members, some of whom prefer rock, some of whom prefer folk and other genres, creative collaboration is often fruitful and beneficially unstructured. My natural follow up question centered around the cliché, “too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup.” How does a band with an abundance of writers, players, and contributors avoid chaos and achieve cohesion?

Buddy Rich, the legendary jazz drummer, once rendered all labels and genre classification irrelevant when he declared, “There are two types of music – good and bad.” Feinberg provided a similar criterion, “We are all open to one another, and if it’s good it’s good.” He also explained that they have to “reel each other in” – a tough task made easier by a good producer, which Feinberg likens to an “elected and benevolent dictator.” On Take Good Care, The Revivalists worked with three dictators – Dave Cobb, who has previously managed the board for Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton, Andrew Dawson, whose resume includes running production for Kayne West, and Dave Basset, who has also worked with Elle King and Vance Joy.

The Revivalists formed in 2007, and have spent the past 11 years earning their scars and credentials through the toil most measurable in sweat, scratchy throats, and aches and pains. For most of those years, The Revivalists have played over 100 shows annually. Such consistency of creation and labor not only helps all eight members develop their respective crafts, but also allows the individuals working together as a unit to establish the collective identity necessary for making music according to a singular approach. Take Good Care, in that sense, is simultaneously evidence and expression of the band’s ongoing achievement of unification.

It has become nearly impossible for rock ‘n’ roll, and even pop music fans to avoid the Revivalists’ new single, “All My Friends.” A number 1 hit on Adult Alternative Radio, it demonstrates how a band can create an infectious and irresistible song for widespread enjoyment without compromising on artistry and musicality. “All My Friends” announces faith in the future in its verses, but the instantly memorable chorus underscores the importance of friendship in the security of that future. A great anthem for individuality and solidarity, it sounds as young as the singer, who identifies himself in his twenties, but uses an enlivening mix of hip hop, rock, and gospel vocalization to explore ancient ideas of social connection (Shaw is currently in his 30s, but wrote the lyrics at 25).

Lead singer David Shaw manages to deftly handle vocals with an assertive and delicate touch – leaving little room to question the sincerity of the lyrics, but allowing the soulful quality of his voice to illustrate the age old wisdom, “less is more.”

Shaw is equally effective when he sings in the soft tones of solemnity. Another crucial song on Take Good Care is the moving and plaintive ballad, “Shoot You Down.” Inspired by outrage and sadness following the Parkland massacre, The Revivalists have written a song possessing tragic timeliness – a protest against gun violence, and the governmental refusal to adopt sane measures of firearm regulations and controls.

The acoustic beauty offers an earnest and artistic political statement in solidarity with shooting victims and their families, and The Revivalists support their words with action, donating proceeds of sales from the single to the Gun Safety Support Fund. “Shoot You Down” reminds audiences of the power of music – the power to provoke thought and generate feeling. It simmers in stark contrast to so much of contemporary music that lacks sincerity and sensitivity. While The Revivalists work with a modern template, they never sacrifice old fashioned feeling. An essential part of that feeling is engagement with political dysfunction and failure.

“Artists should not stand on the sidelines of history,” Zack Feinberg told me. “Other countries have sensible gun policies that lead to a safer country, and I believe we should move forward in that direction,” Feinberg said, “And a song can maybe push the needle just a little toward progress. Art tells stories, and we’re telling a story that is, unfortunately, a part of all of our lives.”

The Revivalists, throughout Take Good Care, are delineating stories in which the main characters are the internal emotions that define and dictate life in its most extraordinary and mundane. “Shoot You Down” is no exception in that respect, but it does offer a sober confrontation with darker sides of the story as it closes a record that maintains a celebratory mood throughout its 14 eclectic songs.

“Got Love” follows a Memphis beat to the road of funk, allowing the horn section, led by the dynamic Rob Ingraham, to demonstrate their power and full force. “Oh No” rocks with abandon, structuring its rollicking and ribald rhythm around a guitar riff that would make Led Zeppelin proud. Drummer PJ Howard emerges as a musical hero, keeping the beat and providing unpredictable fills no matter the genre of song.

“Celebration” has an overpowering joy worthy of its name, giving the spotlight to Michael Girardot on keyboards, and climaxing in an addictive sing-a-long.

In a year when trouble and trauma dominates the news, political crises manifest on a weekly basis, and American citizens suffer anxiety over everything from potential constitutional breakdown to routine massacre by firearm, The Revivalists have presented a gift of sweet subversion.

“We’re not born to just die,” David Shaw sings on “Shoot You Down.” With Take Good Care, The Revivalists have brought their craft, inspiration, and creativity into coalescence to remind listeners of the joy of music and the joy of life. It is an album perfect and necessary for its time, but also one with qualities forever worthy of celebration.

David Masciotra is the author of four books, including Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015) and Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017).