Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: War Poets - Dulce et Est Decorum

Minnesota, MN-based rock outfit, War Poets, and on Dulce et Decorum Est, the collective uses their musical chops as weapons in the war.
Inspiration can come from any number of sources. A romantic relationship, a pivotal moment in time, or a baby’s birth, these have all been the fuel in which many a musician has found his or her Muse. Yet, perhaps there’s no greater motivation for an artist than witnessing an injustice that occurs. And social injustice is exactly what motivates

Even in the very structure of the group is the band’s emphasis on justice and equality seen as group founder and lead singer/guitarist Rex Haberman actively sought to give fellow vocalist and bassist Jenny Case a pivotal role.

 “I have a strong opinion about the status of women in music because I find it a really male-dominated world,” he reveals.

A conversation with longtime friend and collaborator Matt Kirkwold led to the suggestion of Case, who’d sharpened her skills fronting many a cover band as well as her own while serving as the Executive Director of the She Rock She Rock Foundation.

“We work together like we’re on a mission,” Haberman explains. “Jenny has high standards. She’s a perfectionist in the studio and really pushes the band’s performances. She’s super talented and highly professional.”

The rest of the band is made up of a revolving crew of talented Midwestern musicians but each brings their own flair and voice to the group, aiding in garnering War Poets some solid acclaim, even in 14 short months. In that time, the YouTube video for their first single, “Close Enough,” has garnered 250K+ views and they’ve garnered national airplay on AAA and college formats. Film and television licenses have come as well and the band has had the opportunity to play at the Red Gorilla Music Festival during SXSW, a perfect forum for their blend of Americana-flavored rock and lyrics of protest and change.

On Dulce et Decorum Est, War Poets engage a number of issues across two discs, seventeen songs in all which is a feat that not many seasoned artists would try, let alone a relatively new one. The band splits the tracks, filling one disc with their rock edge while offering up a more subdued collection of ballads on the other. The result is an expansive album that has both hits and misses.

Most of the hits come by way of the “Rock” disc, the band well earning their comparisons to acts like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac as they roar through tracks like “Don’t Look Back” with its muscled guitars and Haberman’s rich vocals or “Dominica’s Been Sent” and it’s rich tapestry of sound and Case’s stunning rock vocals. “Good Company” is a great jam, the old school honkytonk rock ‘n’ roll feel perfectly delivered with Jerry Lee Lewis-flavored keyboard work while “Another Lie” holds the most contemporarily accessible sound, Case’s bright delivery giving the song extra legs. And “Close Enough” is a track that captures the best of the band, highlighting both their solid musicianship which is almost jazz-like in the way they ebb and flow, allowing each part to sing, and their intentionally pointed lyricism as they offer a musical statement in support of same-sex marriage.

On the other hand, the band’s “Ballad” side doesn’t quite hold as much power, tracks like “Montserrat” and “Paint You the Sun” reading as pleasant but offering little to come back to. “Running Back to You” suffers a similar fate but the stark piano and Jenny Case’s plaintive vocals on “Partly Naked” make it a highly listenable track. Haberman makes use of a similar tactic on the album closer, “Be Like You,” and it works nearly as well, his delivery honest and heartfelt against the rich keyboard, ending on a high note.

War Poets are a gifted act with plenty to say. Dulce et Decorum Est is a record that is ambitious, perhaps in some ways a little too ambitious, but is one that showcases this band in many lights, most of them positive. Haberman and Case show themselves to be able songwriters and their stable of rotating musicians deliver solidly each time out. They’re a band that has all the pieces in place for success; the next step is up to them.

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