There’s something so American about what The 29ers do. They’ve got twang and acute accessibility. There are times they can rock, complete with a quick tempo and distorted guitars, and there are times they can be tender, brushes on the drums and six-strings that are covered in delicacy. A lead vocal takes centerstage with an occasional tiny Southern accent during one song, while the next features more focus on pretty backing harmonies.
In short, it kind of feels like these guys can do it all, yet no matter what they do, it all has the undertones of the colors red, white and blue behind it. There’s just something so genuine, so innocent, so Americana, to the approach The 29ers take. You hesitate to box them into any single genre or niche, but you also feel you know exactly what they are going for. There’s a comfortability to it all, a familiarity that is a lot harder to pull off than one might believe.
Yet this West Virginia quintet appears to do it with ease — and they do it often on their latest four-song EP, “Inherent Buzz.” The stand-out moment comes in the form of the set’s quietest song, “Drag You Down.” Led forth by dueling electric guitars, it’s a pretty song, the subdued drums adding touch while the vocals provide a sweet tenderness. Plus, it has, far and away, the EP’s smartest line: “This life will kill you if you let it, but it will bore you if you don’t.” It works because it’s innocent and it’s innocent because it works.
Not as innocent is opening track “Marie.” Or, well, it’s at least not as ardent as “Drag” feels. That’s because instead of hope, the preceding story is colored with barbs like “Whoa Marie, I think I like you a little more than you like me.” It’s successful, though, especially as the bridge kicks in and Eric Watland’s keyboards lighten the dark, rejected skies. And this all comes surrounded by a power-pop groove that might even make the Gin Blossoms smile.
Speaking of making mainstream artists smile, “Tape Recorder Blues” recalls Tom Petty, especially throughout the verses when Heartbreakers-esque backing vocal harmonies add a richness to the production. The guitar chops are there, too — just check out the soloing that follows the second chorus to understand the potential behind what you’re hearing. It all blends together masterfully in ways that feel far more mature than you might expect from a band that hasn’t been together all that long.
And then there’s “Frozen In Time,” which leans on a train beat from drummer Chris Chilcoat as the group finally goes full-on Southern. The guitars echo Nashville pop and the contrast between bright structure and dour vocals plays wonderfully in the gray space that makes all twang-rock work. It’s a testament to the notion that simple doesn’t mean incompetent. It all works when these five guys come together, even if you can see a lot of the chord changes coming down main street and the rhymes sometimes feel like phrases you’ve already heard.
But presumption in music isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, most of the time, it works as a tool designed to help ease a listener’s mind into a space that allows acceptance in consumption. It also doesn’t hurt that some of these hooks are catchy as hell. It’s clear that The 29ers know their way around good, old-fashioned song craft and “Inherent Buzz” is as sturdy a four-song set as one could ever hope for. It might not thrill as much as you prefer, but it sure never lets you down.
And sometimes, in the land of the free, at least, reliability can be as American as apple pie.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***