In rock 'n' roll, you've got to walk the well-trodden path of the genre's forefathers one step at a time. Each gig under your belt makes for another fan, while every record serves as the next totem for your legacy. It's a proverbial rite of passage, and there's no skipping to the end. The Revivalists didn't take any shortcuts.
Since forming in 2007, the seven-piece New Orleans roots-driven rock band logged countless miles on the road, cultivating a high octane live show and a studio presence equally steeped in instrumental virtuosity and charismatic vocal magnetism. Following two independent releases, 2010's Vital Signs and 2014's City of Sound, that time and dedication came to a head on the group's third full-length album, Men Amongst Mountains [Wind-Up Records]. As much as it's the culmination of their work thus far, it opens up a new chapter for the band - David Shaw [vocals], Zack Feinberg [guitar], Ed Williams [pedal steel guitar], Rob Ingraham [saxophone], George Gekas [bass], Andrew Campanelli [drums], and Michael Girardot [keys, trumpets].
"The title sums up our collective feeling," says Shaw. "We started to find ourselves on festival bills with our idols and in front of huge crowds. We thought, 'We're amongst these giants, but we're holding our own.' We felt like we stood up and met the challenge by simply being who we are as The Revivalists."
That honesty turned both fans and critics into believers. Upon release, Men Amongst Mountains debuted at #2 on the Billboard Alternative Albums Chart and Top 10 on the iTunes Alternative Albums Chart while quickly racking up nearly 2 million plays on Spotify all through word of mouth. Rolling Stone, NPR, Nylon, and more would sing their praises as they launched a headline tour that sold out dates across the country. It all comes back to the group's sound though.
"Everyone adds his own unique imprint to it," Shaw goes on. "There's always an element of surprise, because it'll be groove-oriented, but unconventional. We lock in, and something different happens."
Whether it's Ed's show-stopping pedal steel fireworks, Zack finger-tapping out bluesy licks on his fretboard, or Rob and Michael's horns adding just the right touch of bombast, Men Amongst Mountains consistently surprises. In order to capture that unpredictability, the band recorded the album live on tape in just 21 days at the iconic "Studio in the Country" [Stevie Wonder, The Afghan Whigs, Nine Inch Nails] in Bogalusa, LA with producer Ben Ellman.
"We had been playing a good amount of the songs live," explains Shaw. "We had a feel for them, but we also had a few new ones. Ben was a breath of fresh air in the process. There are seven people in the band and a lot of strong personalities, to say the least. Ben guided us through our ideas. With his encouragement, we'd work it until we felt that magic."
The magic certainly courses through the album opener and lead single "Keep Going," which shot into the Top 25 on the Triple A Chart. Driven by Shaw's heavenly urgent croon, the track builds into a swinging refrain propelled by shining keys, funked-out guitar, and booming horns. "It started out as an acoustic song I'd written," he goes on. "I showed it to the band, and they brought it to life. I was pretty road-worn at the time and tired from touring. That's what the opening line is all about. It's that message to just keep going."
Elsewhere, "Wish I Knew You" delivers a wistful desire with stunning jamming and southern R&B swagger. "Monster" reels back into pensive lyrical poetry within a canvas of ethereal instrumentation, and "All In The Family" confidently explodes on a jaw-dropping guitar solo. The soulful "It Was A Sin" showcases Zack's fret tapping bolstered by Ed's cinematic pedal steel. "Zack and I wrote that one together," remarks Shaw. "You can really hear everything we do as a band in there."
Ultimately, The Revivalists are quite far along on their own path now, and there's no turning back.
"All that matters is that the art makes you feel something," the singer concludes. "I'd love for it to take you away into the mood we felt when the song was actually created. I hope you can feel the general vibe of a song and have it be an escape - whether you're listening to it at home or in the crowd at a show."