Still Carrying on the Torch of the Greats with Firebug: An Album Review

Being musically obsessed (the term I like to use to describe my love of rock and roll) can be a very time consuming process. Don't get me wrong, it's a labor of love, but it takes a lot of time to continually be seeking out new music from today and yesteryear. Plus then I just have to spend a good bit of time with my ears locked in my headphones absorbing all the sonic goodness as well (and I have a "day job" or two to take care of as well).

Like I said, labor of love, so I'm definitely not complaining, but time constraints are a good explanation/justification/excuse for why it sometimes takes me longer to get back to some artists than others. It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm not listening to them anymore, I'm just caught up in other things.

To sort of keep artists from falling through the cracks completely, I thought I would take some time in the next month or two to revisit a few artists/bands I discovered and discussed back when the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll was first taking off. I'll start with a band out of L.A. called Firebug that was one of the first bands I found for this site... one that really impressed me from the start.

If you're interested in seeing my first impressions of this band though, check out my original article here: Carrying the Torch of the Greats: New Rock from Indie Favorite Firebug

Although It's been a year and a half or so since I first talked about Firebug, I've had tracks of theirs in my collection that I regularly listen to since I first heard their music. I "diligently" kept an eye out for an album though to really get the full picture... an album which has since been released. It took me a little while (that time constraint problem again) but I have finally been able to check out their most recent, full length album Season for Change.

The verdict?... I'm really digging it.

In case you don't feel like reading back through my first post, I'll give you a little overview of this band Firebug. Although they have some great variation through this album, there are definite threads that run through every song. They have a very distinct sound that is psychedelic and almost hypnotic... gritty but not necessarily raw... A good blend of bands like the Doors and Led Zeppelin; more mystic sounding folk and blues styles; and more modern alternative, indie and garage rock. I could easily see them sharing the stage with modern bands like the Racontuers, the Black Keys or Queens of the Stone Age... I bet they'd could jam with blues artists like John Lee Hooker and Johnny Winter in a pinch too... and yet they don't really sound like any of those bands/artists, just in a similar vein. Throughout it all though, you have somewhat subtle but very compelling guitar work and the standout vocals of Juliette Tworsey pulling everything together.

This album starts off with "Paradise", a stellar track with a great soaring chorus. Subtle guitar picking rings throughout, as to bits of tremolo and other effects like minimal string parts, but when those guitars kick in, the band sounds as huge as any of their classic rock influences. This was one of the first songs I ever heard by this band and it's still one of my favorites.

They change the pace a little with with the folk flavored "Just Because". Thick distorted guitars provide a sharp contrast on the chorus to the acoustic guitar and mandolin (sounds like mandolin to me) lines that echo over it. Those guitars don't sound overpowering though, even when their's a mystic flavored guitar lead thrown in, or a little noise rock screech very subtly placed for color. "Best I Can" pulls the tempo back a little bit and subsequently sounds both more bluesy and dreamy with floating airy vocals and a killer psychedelic guitar lead complete with with a touch of wah pedal and stereo panning. The title track, "Season for Change" follows with an opening garage rock inspired riff before settling into a more bluesy, swaggering groove. That opening riff returns though for the chorus though, again providing a good contrast as the band shifts between time signatures and rhythmic structures.

One of the standout surprises on this album (to me at least) is "Smile". The opening riff is reminiscent of the opener "Paradise"... one of those sonic threads I mentioned earlier. The chorus though is pure, uplifting power pop though, and it sounds great. This is that "clouds parting" moment. It's not that this is necessarily a dark album, but this song is just the light streaming though the bluesy haze of the earlier tracks. This is a song that very quickly became one of my favorites from this band.

"Eyes Wide Open" is more stripped of the bluesy feel of some of their earlier tracks, replacing it with more melancholy and a subtle sadness. This track also contains a great guitar lead that is very soulful and expressive, really fitting well with the overall feel. "Breakdown" was my early favorite when I first heard about this band, and it's still a favorite now. Mystic flavored and visceral with a harder hitting, punchy chorus, it has a very primal throb to it. I also really like the guitar leads on this track as well, whether it's the intertwined melodies building on each other and upping the intensity, the grinding center section, or just the little grace notes thrown in on a whim... they all just fit the song so well and give it those spine tingling moments. Great song.

"Carnivore Banquet" is a folksy, eastern flavored instrumental that certainly recalls the work of Jimmy Page (think "White Summer" or "Black Mountain Side"). It also serves as a good coda after the more intense build up of "Breakdown". "Last Laugh" is a bluesy, gospel tinged ballad with blasts of organ and a lot of soul behind more restrained vocal moments. "Forever Won't Wait" keeps the softer feel going, with more folksy restraint, touches of slide guitar and a shimmering, more dreamy style production and arrangement. The next track takes that one step further as "Reverie" is very airy and wispy... almost like it would blow away in a strong breeze. When they get to the closing track, "Been There Before" it may seem like they're getting fixated on a sound, as this song too starts off sort of dreamy and airy, but it rapidly explodes into a massive rock chorus... and that's just the start. By the end they are closing out the whole album with all the rock guitar they can muster, building layers of sound and guitar effects (like a sweet phase sweep and an even sweeter set of guitar leads) to create the "end of the night" rocking closer that you're almost sure the band just tears to shreds when playing live. I actually wish this one was stretched out at the end to really demonstrate the potential it has for live improvisation... great stuff.

Overall, Season for Change is a very compelling and engrossing album... one that leaves me looking forward to all future albums from Firebug.

It's certainly not a perfect album, but every song works well together as a whole and I especially like the way it seems to build up to "Breakdown", then pull back only to erupt in an even bigger climax in the closer "Been There Before". That said, I would have liked to see a real "rocker" from this band... something up tempo and driving hard to break up some of the similar tempos. With the closing song they definitely show they can rock out, there just isn't a real driving, up tempo rocker like that on this album.

Oh well, not big deal . It's not like any of these songs sound like filler, like they're stretching themselves to reach a sound that doesn't fit them or like a rehash of the same ideas. Every song works well for them, almost like variations on a theme. The band sound very comfortable in their sound and like they are committed to making the music they want to make. I'm also impressed with the great restraint and sense of arrangement this band has as it makes their music very accessible, but also very complex. There is a feeling of spontaneity because of the bluesy feel and nature of the parts, but at the same time, the way certain bits of sound fall so perfectly they sound like they were crafted to perfection. The arrangements are full of small interesting textures that always seem to happen at just the right moment, but still with restraint.

Although I'm certainly partial to the guitar work, I think the standout is obviously the vocals of Juliette Tworsey. Along with great authenticity, soul, and vocal range, she seems to know the perfect time to add that little bit of grit... that little throaty growl... to make the lyric, or the turn of a phrase, just pop.

All these things are signs that Firebug is a band that knows that indulging their every impulse will probably not result in great music. Using unique effects, sounds and subtlety for appropriate texture though, can create something lush and rich... and that's just how these songs sound: lush and rich.

When I make musical suggestions, whether it's for the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll or otherwise, I like to think about the audience/individual I'm making the suggestion to and really make sure I'm choosing bands that I think they will like. Firebug though, is one of those bands that I will happily suggest to pretty much anyone with an interest in modern rock to classic rock. Their music is complex and artistic, but accessible... modern, but also vintage... unique and fresh, but also carrying on the torch of their influences.

I know I'll be keeping an eye out for future releases from Firebug. In Season of Change they not only show off some killer songs and a great album, but also tremendous potential for the future.

Firebug is also a band I'm really psyched to see live... so next time I'm in L.A. (who knows when that will be, so maybe I'll just hope they come to Chicago sometime soon instead) I might have to see a concert, because I bet they put on a great live show.

If you didn't catch the first piece I wrote about Firebug and this is the first you're hearing of them... Check them out... I bet you'll like them. While if you were digging their music the first time I talked about them, time to take another look and check out their most recent album... In my book, it's worth picking up.

For more information including where to order Season of Change check out the band's myspace here: http://www.myspace.com/firebug

They also have a a song not available on the album, "End of the World" as well as the album open "Paradise" available for download, plus you can watch a video for another great track not on the album "Walk Again" all available on the band's website here: http://firebugmusic.com/

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