Van Duren is a good band (apparently still together per the account on Bandcamp) and perhaps more than any other band in history, they’re good because they just get up and play and don’t let anything get in the way of the already established rock and roll forces around them. These forces include, most notably, being from Memphis (the birthplace of Delta Blues and Big Star) and their chronology falling within the early 1970s, a period of extreme vitality in the genre. The technical chops and sound are undeniable — these guys will croon out sensitive love ballads with the most stupefying bass lines in the background which somehow miraculously don’t become showy or ostentatious, and they rock out with a relentless groove and ease the mark of a professional band fit for any situation or arena.
What’s funny too is that lead singer Van Duren even SOUNDS almost exactly like Alex Chilton of Big Star, Van Duren’s Memphis, Ardent Records and early-’70s contemporaries, who would certainly seem to draw the most comparisons of any cohort. I mean, I can’t think of anybody in this history of rock who sounds more like singer Van Duren other than maybe Steve Winwood (circa Blind Faith).
Ok so this album is definitely epochal — nobody would confuse this with some metal tour de force that would appeal to fans of My Chemical Romance and Five Finger Death Punch — it’s “rock and roll” in the loungy, jazzy but undeniably rhythmic sense of the mid-’70s (Bandcamp even hilariously cites the “lead guitarist” like how the axe wielder in Almost Famous bizarrely usurped the Stillwater lead singer in fame, though possibly because his “looks have become a problem”).
Pop-punk was built on power chords and faux-romantic narratives but this is “power pop,” at least as it’s termed by people who are older than me, rock music which is a little louder than folk, effusive of slightly fewer riffs than Led Zeppelin but harboring of an at least comparable sonic volume for its verse-chorus denouements. My game ball in particular, as I allude, goes to Charles Stout, the bassist, but “Torn in Half” (live) is something as well to meditate on in and of itself. Van Duren gave us two live tracks to cap off the band portion of this soundtrack album (which are followed by two tracks by artist “Good Question” which I have to admit I didn’t listen to, for just having already taken in a lot of new material by a new set of musicians). You expect them to do something cheesy here, like break down into a “Louie Louie” cover or something, but what rears its head is truly singular in the rock canon — this intro with this fun Throwing Muses-type drum beat (this was before hair metal snare sound, thank God), a slow-burning, Joshua Tree-type rhythm guitar drapery, but most importantly, this bewildering keyboard riff, played on this funky old machine the Beatles might have used on Rubber Soul, and on which the notes dance around with such rapidity that their formative traits seem to be their own ephemeral debt to one another. If you were listening to this music from far away, or not paying close enough attention, all of these forces would seem to bleed into one another and form one central organism of divine groove, like a more visceral version of Wilco’s “Muzzle of Bees,” and also, in this case, one he** of an album capper on a definitive work from another rock and roll blacksmith.