In their first few tours, it would make sense for an up-and-coming band to open for artists whose style is generally reminiscent of their own. With the more experienced band of the two most often responsible for the bulk of attendance, it allows the newer band to perform for a group of people who already enjoy a similar sound, instilling more confidence in the band’s members and increasing the likelihood of an amiable reception dramatically. For a band like Bravo Johnson, I imagine that selecting a touring partner came rather easily. Since they debuted in 2006, the LA-based 4-piece has already released several hours’ worth of material that makes a strong case for them being one of the most eclectic Americana acts around. But such a classification would also beg the question: If Americana is consistently classified as a degree of American roots music with a massive array of implemented styles that include folk, blues, and rockabilly, isn’t the stylistic diversity to be expected? For the majority of artists, the specified approach is integrated in a way that it consistently determines the presented style, with each and every song mainly sticking to a formula that blends such approaches consistently throughout a release. The striking thing about Bravo Johnson is that, instead of sticking with one supreme blend of sorts, they have the confidence to toy around with a variety of styles on a song-to-song basis; it is the type of enjoyable Americana that sounds neither repetitive nor desperate.
It was just last week when I wrote about a double-album release from Centro-matic, a group who has been steadily writing great songs for over a decade. Like the mentality demonstrated through their varied style, Bravo Johnson once again show their boldness in commendable form by releasing a double-album, The Crooked and the Straight, only two years into their lifespan. An extremely risky choice it may be, but after listening to both discs in full, it appears that it may have been the right choice after all. As I reiterated in the Centro-matic feature, too much material in one release can obviously be overwhelming to some listeners, but quality will always prevail in the end. And while listening to the entirety of The Crooked and the Straight in one sitting is not recommended (listening to the same artist for two consecutive hours can sometimes get tiring, regardless of the quality), the consistency of quality that is spread throughout the majority of the release is quite impressive. Instead of relying on a traditional structural formula in which one disc encompasses an audibly involved (electric) sound while the other demonstrates a more restrained (acoustic) style, both have their share of tracks that could fit into both categories.
Bravo Johnson are led by the eclectic songwriting of Rick Amurrio, a multi-instrumentalist who also provides his talents on guitar, piano, and Wurlitzer. Guitarist Hendrik Roever, bassist Hendrik Roever, and drummer Iñaki García. Brian Miller also supplied keys on The Crooked and the Straight, with the instrument being one of several driving forces in the standout “Are You Dreaming?”. Guitars, keys, and a glaring harmonica establish the track’s irresistible melody, uplifted in invigorating form by the emotive twang of Amurrio’s commendable vocal delivery. The keys establish the hook during the chorus with the swift placement of several successive chords, gradually shifting lower in tone before the verse is once again re-introduced. It is currently my favorite track on the album due to its catchy melodic form, complements of the contagious arrangement and the efficiently utilized vocals. Amurrio has drawn vocal comparisons to Tom Petty since the release of Bravo Johnson’s debut, Aimless Drifting, in 2006, and though “Are You Dreaming?” is not the best example of the similarity on the album, it is certainly apparent in some form. If you want to hear something a bit more comparatively accurate, take a listen to “Ace in the Hole”. An amiable mixture of rockabilly and alternative, the style itself sounds more accurate of latter Neil Young. But regardless of which aspect of the track you are eager to relate, both Young and Petty are extremely complementary comparisons regardless.
As expected within the genre of Americana, a variety of twangy guitars are utilized in masterful form thanks to Roever, as he displays his knack for most commonly traditional types of guitars in the genre’s existence (dobro, banjo, and steel are just a few). Tracks like “Aimlessly Drifting” manage to fuse the variety of guitars together into one cohesive delivery, defining the diverseness of Americana as concisely and effectively as possible. The style at heart is folk, but – thanks to the impressive fusion of guitars – the track provides enough shades of country and alternative-rock to comfort all types of listeners. This type of approach is extremely prevalent throughout all 26 tracks on The Crooked and the Straight, with it never getting tiring despite the length. If one is looking for more immediate satisfaction, “Hot Wheels” seems like the right route. Featuring yet another Petty-esque chorus that just begs to be sung along to, it seems like a pretty likely choice for a single, especially given the excellent transitional moments where the track shifts into rockabilly before reverting back to the original Americana brew. Alongside the excellent “Are You Dreaming?”, it serves as one of the most accessible tracks on the album. Though the second disc generally pales in comparison to the excellent consistency of the first half, The Crooked and the Straight serves as a very impressive double-album that should most likely usher in Bravo Johnson as one of the breakthrough Americana artists of 2008.