Often when you come across a great live band, you almost cringe at the mention of a CD release. Because how can a group capture, within the confines of a studio, that same free-spirited magnetism that makes them so good on stage? This is especially true in the case of The Last Call, fronted by former Kerouac or the Radio singer/songwriter Jeff Markham. The band, which reformed in part from the ashes of Kerouac, transformed its formerly sleek, dark indie-rock sound into something raw and joyful, rehearsed but loose, thoughtful but heart-on-sleeve. Haven’t seen them live? Just check out their video for “Baby It’s Gone” (below), filmed on the LaZoom Comedy Tours bus. And then rest assured that all of that energy, all of that earnest charisma and barely-contained chaos is evident on the band’s just-released album, Before I Go.
Early on, the pace of Before I Go is set with the galloping, Pouges-reminiscent “Lonesome Travelin Man.” That fiery tempo is revisited in other tunes like “Most of the Time” and in the thrashy power-rock guitar solo at the two-minute mark in the title track. That particular phrase of power-rock comes as a surprise because the song, “Before I Go,” opens with a plaintive melody line and a languid Mazzy Star-tinged intro.
But for all the laissez faire trappings, the Last Call is tight enough to turn on a dime. They play slower numbers, like the waltzy, twighlit “With You” (all “Harvest Moon”-pretty and featuring a duet between Markham and Valerie Phillips) with the same conviction and amplitude they employ for folk-rock numbers like “Darlin’ You’re So Sweet.” It’s that track, on the album, where the Last Call hits its stride. Simple, driving rhythms, finger-style guitar, tambourine, syncopated, up-front vocals and a tender-happy feel make this exactly the kind of song that would bring fans of The Avett Brothers, Jack Johnson and Arcade Fire all to the table.
While this band is folky, down to its acoustic guitars and banjo parts, it’s also born of rock stock and never comes off as bluegrass-y. Instead, perfectly-placed electric guitar solos lend garage-y influences while nods to The Pretenders and Dire Straits root this album firmly in classic rock territory.
From start to finish, Before I Go is a pleasure and, while not suggested as a substitute for the live show, makes for an apt second-best option.