It sure does seem like everyone and their sister who plays in a punk rock band with a reasonably gruff voice has decided to ditch their regular gig to go solo. Then again, who wouldn’t want to pursue the love of sensitive lumberjacks and bearded ladies on their lonesome with some acoustic tear-in-your-beer balladering? Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves would seem to be another one of these treks but in actuality it is a bit of a different beast.
The first small strike against the album is that the first two songs have been around for a while if you had Chris’ split with Mike Hale. The second of the two, “Reason to My Rhyme,” comes off as a sombre country tune that takes a bit to get going with its picked acoustics. Yet, when the rest of the instrumentation kicks in, Wollard's narrator is shown as being down on his luck in a relationship but still defiant and willing to work it out. The song isn’t pleading or coddling in any way but comes off as a mature individual working at a love hard won. What separates Wollard’s vision from so many of the songwriters in the underground and mainstream is the resiliency found in these stories -- refusing to wallow in self-pity or be dragged down by the forces against you. While the alt-country model of songwriting does pop up again in “You Always Leave,” it is far from the only style up his sleeve.
Like Walter Schreifels’ Walking Concert and Bob Nanna’s the City on Film, Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves explores the boundaries of pop music much in the same way that their previous bands, in Wollard’s case Hot Water Music, explored the boundaries of hardcore punk. You get respectable shades of classic power pop (“No Exception”), `90s alternative (“The High Water”) and singer-songwriter (“Hey Bea”). These forms aren’t by any means mutually exclusive and the fact that the whole album works together so well is a testament to that. While the country/folk bits obviously reflect Wollard’s past in Rumbleseat, “Same to You” feels like it could have been an outtake from the Draft’s LP and this allows the album to fit nicely into his body of work. To help in general cohesiveness there is also bits of noise or effects at the begging and ending of songs but never so much that it screams at the listener, “Hey! Look at me! I’m a transitory function!”
While there are songs that can stand up against some of the best Chris Wollard compositions out there, “No Exception” and “In the Middle of the Sea” come to mind. However, at only 10 songs (and two being previously released) there really isn’t any room for filler and that is what I’d classify some of it. “Up to the Moon” and “Hey Bea” aren’t bad songs but they don’t seem necessary when stacked up against the rest of the record. There is a lot for Chris Wollard fans here to enjoy as it is a solid release but it feels like the man is capable of much more.