The short version: As always, Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown are excellent on a technical level, but their new album, ‘Truth and Lies,’ is a mixed bag of songs.
- Favorite tracks: “Couldn’t See The Fire,” “Out There,” “Panic Button,” “Cry Wolf,” “Eye To Eye”
- Least favorite track: “Ride”
- Rating: 6/10
The long version: As I said before, July is going to be an odd month for reviews, and since I’ve already expanded into Americana recently to talk about Jade Bird, let’s turn to another close cousin of country music – good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.
And this brings us to Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, a Nashville based rock band that have slowly made their mark opening for acts like AC/DC, Guns and Roses, and … Vince Gill? At any rate, in this author’s opinion, they continue to get better with every release. 2013’s Wild Child was solid, but you could tell the band was just beginning to find their sound and voice. After a brief detour with 2015’s experimental The Wayside EP, they truly did find a hard-hitting, unique blend of hard and blues rock with their self-titled album in 2017. Sure, the influences were noticeable, especially when the band includes guitarist Graham Whitford, the son of Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, but front man Tyler Bryant had a compelling vocal presence, and the technical showmanship of the band was absolutely top notch. It’s safe to say that self-titled album was one of the best of that year.
Yet as I keep going through their history in my head, I’m struggling to find a distinct reason why their latest album, Truth and Lies, just isn’t gripping me on that same level. Despite being recorded in just under two weeks, you certainly can’t blame it on a lack of care when the band pared down the final tracklist from an original batch of over 50 songs.
And again, in terms of pure technical showmanship, the band will almost always succeed. Of course, it’s hard to find many notable contemporaries for this brand of hard-hitting rock these days outside of, say, Greta Van Fleet, but Bryant and the Shakedown actually blend their influences with their own style. If you’re looking for infectious hooks, riffs and melodies, this album certainly has you covered. From the aggressive, chugging tones of “On To The Next” to the grimier, heavier riffs on “Eye To Eye” or “Cry Wolf,” there’s some truly epic-sounding moments here.
And then it hit me.
Bryant reportedly wanted to focus more on the lyricism for this project, and while that’s a notable step for any artist to take, I can’t help but feel that the band’s appeal has stemmed from anything but the lyricism. That’s not to say it’s bad, mind you. “Into the Black” is still one of the most gutting songs I’ve ever heard, but this is music that’s mainly meant to invoke primal emotions first and foremost. There’s something so refreshing about the band’s aggressive playing and Bryant’s charisma, technical ability be damned. The lyrics, while serviceable, have usually taken a backseat with this band.
Yet on Truth and Lies, it’s largely apparent that many of these songs were arranged to fit the lyrical structure first and foremost – the scattered, frazzled riffs on “Panic Button” to induce that feeling of paranoia, the pure adrenaline rush of the riff on “Shock and Awe” to capture … well, shock and awe, the laidback groove of “Ride” to support its “live and let live” message – you get the idea.
And when it ultimately comes down to it, while those ideas do work on several tracks here, it creates a mostly mixed bag overall. “Ride” isn’t bad, but it has to contain one of their most underweight and laziest grooves to date, and “Drive Me Mad” evokes the cheesier side of ‘80s rock as a whole. And when it comes down to the actual lyricism, it has its moments, but this is still rock ‘n’ roll first and foremost, meaning the lyricism tends to play to a broader spectrum more than it otherwise should at points.
As you might guess where I’m going with this, that does work sometimes. “Panic Button” was written about Bryant’s own fears, yet it’s the kind of track most people can painfully relate to, if not all on the exact same level. The pure blues riffs on “Judgment Day” do well to establish that ominous presence and sense of lingering danger, and while that danger never actually fluctuates, again, it succeeds by setting up that atmosphere.
Of course, when the writing does go for deeper sentiments, the results are easily some of the band’s best cuts to date. “Out There” is easily one of the album highlights for not only showcasing one of Bryant’s best vocal performances, but also showing a wise maturity to his perspective on relationships that he wrote more than seven years ago. And considering the song is mainly only backed by that sparse acoustic arrangement and faint keys, there’s plenty of room for the message to get across.
Meanwhile, “Shape I’m In” carries plenty of burnished textures to it to capture that feeling of burn out and go back to establishing that anthemic presence. And if there’s one track where the execution is damn near perfect, it’s on the closer, “Couldn’t See The Fire,” where that creeping, sinister riff continuously builds momentum as Bryant catches a lover in the act, with tensions flaring up until right at the end when that solo kicks in. And it’s there where you’re reminded just how great of a band the Shakedown really is, especially when the ending is that cathartic and refreshing.
Again, though, those are the moments that work well. “Shock and Awe” still works for unleashing the primal nature of this album as the opening track, but for a track that speaks to a desensitization of the constant bad news in the media as we drown in an endless cycle, doesn’t going for bombast and “shock and awe” kind of belie the point you’re trying to make? And that’s before we get to “Drive Me Mad” and “Without You” which were definitely not written as pure poetry, but instead stabs at more generic styles that the band has seemingly outgrown.
And despite the growing ambition the band chases on Truth and Lies, it comes at the cost of consistency. Still, the band continues to disprove the old adage that “rock is dead,” and while I would say this is their weakest release, it arguably boasts some of their best overall tracks with “Couldn’t See The Fire” and “Out There.” But as a fan, it’s disappointing not to hear them stick the landing a little smoother, so while this is still good, it’s not quite as gripping as that self-titled record or Wild Child. But again, the band isn’t settling down anytime soon, and considering that hunger is still there and the fire is in their eyes, this is still solid, but I’m looking forward to hearing future projects.
Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown is Tyler Bryant, Noah Denney (bass), Caleb Crosby (drums), and Graham Whitford (guitar)