On paper, Baltimore’s Red Sammy seems like a hipster’s dream. The group is fronted by a lead singer who’s doing his best to sound like a groggy Tom Waits. The music is attached to a made-up genre the minds behind the band seem to insist they invented. A quick look at Red Sammy’s “about” page on their website provides countless references to respected authors and credible musicians. And on top of all that, they incorporate a resonator guitar. Do you even know what a resonator guitar is? Of course you don’t. No one does.
But instead of churning out indie releases that Pitchfork would die to stream daily, the boys from Baltimore come up a bit short with their latest effort, “A Cheaper Kind of Love Song.” Actually, the boys from Baltimore come up a lot short. Instead of a voice that respectfully fails at a cheap Tom Waits impression (because really — who could honestly succeed at ripping off such a legendary voice?), lead singer and principal songwriter Adam Trice sounds more like an angry version of hip-hop has-been/acoustic-guitar-pop-prince Everlast than he does an indie music legend.
Even so, that’s the least of Red Sammy’s problems. The band’s tendency to fall into the same run-of-the-mill pop groove paints a predictable picture throughout all of “A Cheaper Kind of Love Song.” With the exception of the album’s lead track, “It Ain’t You,” and maybe the obnoxiously repetitive “Come Back Home,” almost all the songs that paint the band’s fourth release mesh together to form a slow-to-mid-tempo collage of clichd, lazy songwriting.
Simply put, the band sounds uninteresting. “Baltimore” and “Cactus Flower” are both so slow, it’s hard to take whatever Trice is saying seriously. Both tracks weigh on your patience to the point that anything being sung over the music fades into the fabric of the presentation as a whole. You can’t appreciate the singer’s words because you can’t pay attention to the singer’s words. It’s a shame for a band that supposedly likes to tout its storytelling pedigree.
The aforementioned “It Ain’t You” is the group’s most aggressive attempt at rock, and while the performance is admittedly loose in nature, Trice and his friends should get credit for breaking up the monotony as best they can. Sure, the resonator guitar slides in and out of the mix awkwardly and Tony Calato’s drums don’t sound nearly as big as the rest of his band wants them to, but it’s the only time “A Cheaper Kind of Love Song” won’t make you fall asleep.
Even the group’s attempt at poignancy falls flat. “Wild Dogs,” the album’s closer, finds Trice alone with that grave voice and an acoustic guitar, aiming for the stars and settling for somewhere below the clouds. It has a chance at being the release’s best moment, but again, those same dark acoustic guitar chords and that same faux-pop-music approach water down the end result so much that by the time the singer finds himself at the end of the track, you’ve already found yourself listening to another CD.
“You stay to raise the white flag/I’ll be there to make your life a drag,” Trice sings on “Cactus Flower,” the album’s lone single. Such a line is the perfect example of why “A Cheaper Kind of Love Song” doesn’t work on basically every level. It’s cheesy. It’s bland. It’s generic. And it’s one of many lines that such heavyweights as Tom Waits or William Faulkner — two of the band’s most prominent influences — would never let pass through their minds. Yes, on paper, Red Sammy seems like a hipster’s dream. But with the embarrassingly forgettable songs that make up “A Cheaper Kind of Love Song,” the band has proved to be more of a nightmare to most any kind of music fan out there. Hipster or not.
* 1 STAR OUT OF 4 *