Maturity and evolution are an important part of the creative process, yet I didn’t expect such a different direction in River City Rebels’ fifth album Keepsake of Luck. I fully expected them to move into some kind of punk-adjacent sound similar to 2004’s Hate to Be Loved and its glam influences. But as the first track “Bright Rays” comes in – I already knew that this is going to be a completely different experience. Dan O’day sings a soulful tune, accompanied by wailing organs and voices harmonizing in the background. I should have known from the track listing itself – consisting of longer and more songs – that this is a turning point for River City Rebels. A kind of stamp in the direction the band is going, where they fully embrace folk and Americana into their sound.
Indeed, there are more piano ballads, fiddles and harmonicas in this album than everything in their past records combined. It takes me back to the days when I would listen to slow rock on the radio, featuring bands that my dads and uncles really loved. “Farmhouse Blues” has that harmonica jam that just transports you to the country or the local club after a few beers. It’s also quite noticeable how much emotion is given to these songs, with O’Day feeling more open and biographical in his songwriting. It’s clear that the band has gone through a lot – and after a bit of researching I’ve learned that they were dropped by Victory Records due to creative differences. The band pursued transformation instead of repeating themselves as punk revivalists, and as a result caused a rift in and outside the band. Thankfully, they’ve pushed through and managed to realize O’day’s vision to push their music to the limit that it can take.
There are some heavy hitters in here. The ballad “I’m Here” reminded me of the people missing in my life and got me imagining about how life on tour must have felt. “Lost In” captures that late afternoon blues when you look over your life and see the regrets along the way.
The only echoes of RCR’s punk roots can still be felt in “Nothing Makes You Hard”, which is more of a honky-tonk tune with pounding volumes. Another is the sunny pop vibe of “I’ve Seen” which reminds me of the grungy indie pop bands of the 90’s. The album ends with a poignant note in “Little to Offer”, where gentle guitars, keys and a violin channels the band’s feelings during their tougher times.
Keepsake of Luck is not just a stop in Rebel City Revel’s journey as musicians. It’s a fully realized evolution that they’ve clearly put in a lot of inspiration and effort into, and I’d say it all pays off marvelously.