Portland, Oregon’s, self-proclaimed “ramshackle all-star country band,” Denver, released its sophomore full-length record, Rowdy Love, on the Mama Bird Recording label. A follow-up to 2012’s stellar self-titled album, Rowdy Love picks right back up where their debut left of. It's full of stripped-down, honky-tonk stompers, a vast array of sad songs ranging from sorrowful, broken-hearted, hopelessness to perplexed bewilderment in the form of relationships and everyday travails. There’s even a gem ("Sammyville") about a man who owns, governs, and civil-serves his own personal town in Oregon and the tribulations of his declining health and heightening age, penned and sung by Birger Olsen.
Olsen is just one-sixth of the ramshackle countrified-rock outfit. Mike Elias and Tom Bevitori round out the mainline of the band, handling all the songwriting with Olsen. The other half consists of Sean MacNeil on drums, Billy Slater on bass, and the legend himself, Lewi Longmire, on lead guitar. Denver has provided a revolving door for like-minded Portland artists to pop in and out of. Past line-ups have included Michael Van Pelt, Ben Nugent (Dolorean), Ryan Spellman (Quiet Life), Ray Raposa (Castanets), Tom Menig, and who knows what the future may entail. Most notable “sometime” member, Blitzen Trappers’ Eric Earley, picked up production duties on Rowdy Love, which was recorded live (like it should be) in just a couple days at co-producer Adam Selzer’s Type Foundry Studios. (You may recall Selzer from his past work with singer/songwriter M Ward.)
Rowdy Love is eleven songs that never get old. You gain interest and notable nuances with every listen. It does a terrific job of showcasing three very different vocal stylings, tediously tied into luscious, three-chord, country gold. It leaves out the ironic, over-embellished twang perpetration for the obtuse. What’s left is an identifying album of honest, heart-laden, working man country songs with a raw, rockabilly canticle, “Bound To Lose,” while personal favorites -- “Split Ditch” and “Halfway There” -- bring Rowdy Love to a sad end.
There’s plenty of acoustic beauty and haunting harmonies, raw enigmatic harp work, and just enough rock edge to pull in that crowd, too. Honesty being the keyword here, Denver wears its heart on its sleeve, and they aren’t afraid for you to see the bloody mess. I think they might actually prefer that you do.
Denver has hit a homerun over the centerfield fence for our money -- a definite Sad Songs Keep The Devil Away favorite. Get involved, dig deeper. You deserve it.
+Words: Scott Zuppardo+