It’s been 25 years since the dB’s recorded an album; it’s been 30 years since they recorded one with the band’s original lineup of Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Gene Holder, and Will Rigby. Understandably, expectations run high and the urge to compare this new album to their previous ones is strong. As a fan, I wanted to try and avoid this in my review, but damn it if each song on Falling Off The Sky doesn’t sound exactly like the dB’s! Which is a good thing, trust me.
Let’s be clear: the songs on Falling Off The Sky aren’t those of old fogeys. Okay, maybe Holsapple and Stamey can’t hit the high notes like they did in the early ’80s, but there is not one boring or stodgy moment on this album.
Falling Off The Sky is a comfort to those of us who’ve been playing our dB’s albums on repeat for the last two decades. Holsapple’s unique vocals, songwriting, and lyrics are all there. Stamey is just as distinctive in these same categories, but in a totally different way. Their harmonies highlight the essence of what makes the dB’s great and what makes them so special.
It’s easy to tell the difference between a Holsapple song and a Stamey song, but this difference doesn’t result in a schizophrenic mess. Instead, it blends together into the sound of the dB’s. All this discussion about Holsapple and Stamey is not mean to diminish the amazing musicianship of Gene Holder’s bass and Will Rigby’s drumming, however, both of which stand out in every single song on this album.
For all its familiarity, there are surprises, too, like the presence of strings throughout the album, which I can’t recall hearing before, but which are lovely and welcome. Also new? The first ever Will Rigby dB’s composition, “Write Back.” Its wonderful, clever lyrics and almost ’60s Brill Building-style is topped off with Rigby’s distinctive vocals and delivery. On the other end of the unexpected spectrum are two Stamey songs—”The Adventures of Albatross and Doggerel” and “Collide-ooo-scope”—whose wistful lyrics and abstract, almost fanciful qualities make me wonder if they were produced by the ghost of George Martin.
The order of the songs on Falling Off The Sky is perfect, with the tone and the subject matter introducing and reverberating off each other. And even though the songs sound just like the dB’s, the album is not repetitive; each song has its own specific pleasures, like the excellent guitar riffs in “Before We Were Born” and “Send Me Something Real.”
Opening track “That Time Is Gone” is instantly memorable and hummable, proving perfectly how the dB’s are best at being themselves: They’re a rock band, but not hard; they have pop sensibilities, but they’re not pabulum; they play keyboards, but they’re not a synthpop band.
Another incredibly catchy tune is “The Wonder Of Love,” with horns and a classic dB’s bridge that speeds up halfway through. I’m a sucker for a melancholy tune, and “Far Away and Long Ago,” hits all the marks in that category. Stamey’s lyrics are deceptively straightforward in that they are also profoundly universal and affecting. The contrast between lines such as “just like yesterday” and “far away and long ago” illustrates how heartbreak makes time play tricks with our memories.
There’s a fake ending in “Send Me Something Real” preceding the true, terrific fade-out ending (an art in itself). “World To Cry” features gorgeous background harmonies; it shows off Holsapple’s knack for cutting through other people’s bullshit, but in a completely non-confrontational way.
I love the bridge in “I Didn’t Mean To Say That,” a perfect example of the way Holsapple uses the same word in multiple ways (“plays tricks” and “plays fair”) to go someplace deeper: “I didn’t mean to call you off, I didn’t mean to call you down, or out, or anything”
“She Won’t Drive In The Rain Anymore” (co-written with Kristian Bush of Sugarland) feels like a Continental Drifters track, and highlights Holsapple’s skills in the storytelling style of songwriting; evocative and full of imagery without being flowery or affected. (The line about the hatchet in the attic will certainly resonate with anyone affected by Hurricane Katrina.)
Although the “Remember” (Falling Off The Sky)” is ostensibly the title track, it’s the last song. It serves as a coda to the album itself, a three-minute fade-out, nostalgic yet also looking forward.
With just a handful of albums, those who’ve never heard the dB’s might be surprised by their legacy. Falling Off The Sky should explain not only why they have one, but also engage a entirely new generation of fans.
Falling Off The Sky will be released on June 12 by Bar/None Records. You can order the record from their website. Listen to and download two free tracks from the album here. For more on the dB’s, please visit the band’s website.
Thursday June 14: IOTA Club, Arlington, VA
Friday June 15: Le Poisson Rouge, NY, NY
Thursday June 24: Mountain Stage, Charleston, WV (with Dar Williams, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Arthur Alligood)
TBA, September 6-8, Hopscotch Music Festival, Raleigh, NC