Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Album Review: Befriend Your Sins by Bourbon Brawlers (by Emma Prew)


Bourbon Brawlers are a 7-piece folk punk band from Denver, Colorado, who describe themselves as ‘whiskey swilling musicians out to have a good time’. Sounds fun, huh? In June this year they released new album titled Befriend Your Sins and, being a fan of all things folk punk, I was keen to have a listen.


Befriend Your Sins kicks off with a song called Revolution. The track opens with a generous helping of mandolin, before slowly the other instruments also come – and there’s quite a variety of instruments in Bourbon Brawlers’ ensemble, including harmonica, washboard, banjo and upright bass alongside guitar, drums and the aforementioned mandolin. I’m reminded of British anarcho-folk band Matilda’s Scoundrels, particularly with the theme of rebellion and revolution, on this opening track – ‘Are you ready for the revolution?’ . But something the Scoundrels don’t have is harmonica and its wailing on Revolution really stands out as the song progresses at a steady pace. Up next is Never which begins with some reasonably fast paced acoustic guitar strumming. This leads into a distinct call and response section between the lead vocalist and the rest of the band ‘Have you ever? Have you ever?’ Followed by some more bluesy harmonica, Never develops into a feel good song about drinking with your friends and having a good time. I can imagine it being played live in a rowdy bar where everyone is singing – or perhaps drunkenly shouting – along to the words.

Irish Yoga is the name of the third track of the album and its title alone has convinced me that I will like it – even though I’m not really sure what Irish yoga is! This is a short and fun little song with a great banjo melody that carries the song along at fairly fast pace. Bourbon Brawlers are definitely at their best when playing a bit faster. Much like the previous track, Irish Yoga is a feel-good tune – the epitome of having a good time. The bass line at the beginning of the next song, Light It Up, will get you grooving in no time. It’s not long before the other instruments join in for a fairly lengthy instrumental intro. Once again, the harmonica stand out here – this album has so much harmonica and I love it. That said, the washboard is more distinguisable on this song than previous ones – a greatly underused instrument if you ask me. Light It Up is a song with a distinct storytelling feel with the tale here being about a particular bad character. ‘You were never true, You never spoke the truth, You were never true, ’Til you got that bullet in your gun, Now every night you want to light it up.’ U.N.P.C. switches things up a bit with the vocals starting before any instruments this time. This is a rousing speedy little number that will try its damned hardest to get you singing along with ‘If you don’t like any of that then hey, Fuck you!’ After just over a minute you’d be forgiven for thinking the song had finished as it seems to fade out… But then there’s a yell of ‘Pick it up, pick it up!’ that signals that the song is back. It doesn’t actually turn ska though – now that would have been a surprise! – the hint at it was refreshing anyway.

The Legend Of Shorts McGraw kicks off with a plodding bass that gives a different sort of feel to previous tracks on Befriend Your Sins, perhaps more bluesy than folky. Of course, there are plenty of other instruments in the Bourbon Brawlers ensemble and these add plenty of melodic layers on top of the bass. This is the Legend of Short McGraw so it is only right that there is a big sense of storytelling to this song – something this band excels at. The song is about a friend of the band rather than someone from a long time ago – ‘It’s the legend of Short McGraw, He’s been kicked out of every bar.’ I think it’s meant in a lovable kind of way! As we draw towards the end of the album, we get to some of the longer tracks. The penultimate track, Weight Of The World, has quite a stripped back and gradual opening – for Bourbon Brawlers at least. Here a palm-muted acoustic guitar offers up the first melody. Shortly the pace picks up for a song about feeling like there’s too much pressure on you and struggling to deal with all that life throws at you. There is a lot of shouting of ‘I’ve got the weight of the world on me.’ that seems like both a release for the vocalist and an empowering statement for listeners who might feel the same way. Backseat brings Befriend Your Sins to a close in almost epic style. From the opening line of ‘Everybody’s got a demon in the backseat.’ this song takes listeners on a journey with plenty of ups and down. Backseat is about how it doesn’t matter what demons you might be hiding, everyone is the same – and the track has some rowdy gang-style vocals as if to reinforce this. This is the longest song on the album, at just over 5 minutes long, with a lengthy slowed down last two minutes that almost feels like a live jam session. The song speeds up and becomes frantic and erratic before slowing down again. Well they couldn’t have put that in the middle of the album, could they? I was tired just listening to it!

You can stream and download Befriend Your Sins on Bandcamp and like Bourbon Brawlers on Facebook.

This review was written by Emma Prew.