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REVIEW: The Sapwoods – Peaks and Valleys

Peaks and Valleys
Independent release, 2014

I’m late in getting a review out for The Sapwoods’ new album, Peaks and Valleys.  I’ve listened to it more than a few times since their CD release show earlier this month.

The band’s previous album (Electric Glow, 2012), featured a different rhythm section.  I’ve seen the group perform four times this year and I immediately noticed the slower tempos found on some of the CD tracks when compared to their faster live performances.  I imagine this may be partly due to a new, young rhythm section experiencing their first encounters with recording sessions, and gradually gaining more experience and confidence as they go along.  There seem to be a few small rhythm mistakes in the early tracks, and possibly a loose snare on some tracks, but the new members play well overall.  Derrick Cook is a high-energy drummer who’s a lot of fun to watch at the live shows, and the CD fortunately features a lot of his great fills.  Brian Speer keeps things pretty simple on the bass…for now.  Miranda Peyton is the band’s new secret weapon, adding her backing vocals as well as some fitting keyboard tones.

Original members Justin Swafford (lead vocals, guitar, songwriter) and David Suchan (lead guitar) both make great guitar sounds throughout the album, and Justin’s singing is strong and enjoyable.  The group’s Bandcamp site includes the lyrics to all tracks, which is helpful to people like me who are terrible at deciphering lyrics.

The CD starts out with “Relax, Be Real, Be Yourself”, which is an energetic, catchy rocker.  “Let Go” has a fun House of Large Sizes riff-rock thing going on.  The closing track, “Steady on the Breaks”, has some great guitar sounds at the end (the song grew on me).

Album highlights “Serve You Right” and “The Offer” provide different extremes of alt-country (the band once again does this genre very well).  Another standout track, “Perdition”, is The Sapwoods’ version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”…it’s a beautiful soundscape while it lasts.  I also enjoy the dirty rock riffs found in the second-to-last track, “Same Old Reeling”.

Even the songs that didn’t win me over have some enjoyable elements (Peyton’s keyboards in “Drifters”, the dual guitar solo in “Two Wounded Soldiers” and Suchan’s countrified lead guitar work in “Back to You”).  There’s a good amount of diversity within the album to keep you listening.

I encourage you to check out Peaks and Valleys (here!) and go hear The Sapwoods live when they come to play in your town.


A Sapwood-Centric Post

Three weeks ago, I went to a show in which The Sapwoods served as the opener.  Before the performance, lead guitarist David Suchan handed me a copy of their 2012 CD, Electric Glow.  The rhythm section has changed since the album’s release, but the CD still seems to contain similar elements of their recent live performance.

Why review something over a year old?  Bands send promotional material out to lots of places: Radio stations, record stores, local media, record labels.  If you’re a musician, it makes your day to get a response (good, mixed or constructive) and know that someone actually cares about what you’ve created.  After a couple listens, I believe The Sapwoods’ Electric Glow deserves some belated recognition.

Overall, the sound quality of the CD is good and a lot of the tunes are at full volume.  At times, there are layers and layers of guitars (and the acoustic guitars in the background effectively complement the songs).

The ex-rhythm section of Tyler Johnson and Joe Paulsen are solid throughout.  The drums seem to have a little distortion on certain tracks of the album, but I assume that was on purpose.  Suchan’s guitar work is excellent.  Justin Swafford has a good voice and I think he sings about love on at least a few tracks (although I’m not great at picking out lyrics and I’m even worse with interpreting their meaning).

I enjoy the alt-country sound of “Chasing the Ghost” and the fine ballad “Vanish Like the Night”.  I think this CD would make good driving music, especially if you’re going through “DeKalb” on your way to Chicago.  “Golden Fool” is the most adventurous track (riff-rock).  Closing track “Will This Be the End?” starts off with a good riff, followed by a so-so chorus, and finishes strong.

As I said in my earlier review of their live performance from a few weeks ago, some portions of songs tend to get into simpler songwriting territory (the song “27” is a variation on twelve-bar blues, and other songs rely on tonic-subdominant-dominant structures), but there’s enough variety in other places to keep things interesting.  To make a long story short, the band plays good tunes, and Electric Glow would make a nice addition to your growing collection of Iowa music.

I see the band is performing at Uptown Bill’s Coffee House in Iowa City this Thursday (4/17/14) from 7:30-8:30 PM.  There’s a 30-minute open mic beforehand (short!), so who’s opening is anyone’s guess (will it be…YOU?).  I don’t see any mention of a cover charge or anything, either, so that’s a plus.  And you’ll get back home at a decent time.  And the coffee house probably has decent hot chocolate.

The Sapwoods’ Electric Glow on Bandcamp HERE.