River City Rebels - Keepsake of Luck (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

River City Rebels

Keepsake of Luck (2007)

Silver Sprocket

In Meredith Willson's classic musical theater production "The Music Man," the eager kids of River City are nearly left with nothing but empty promises after being conned into thinking they were getting the spotlight as part of the freshly-formed town band. Amazingly, they are able to piece together an ensemble and deliver a miraculous performance despite their misfortunes and inexperience. The River City Rebels faced the same storyline in early 2006, as post-Victory uncertainty landed them with Rolling Thunder Records, a partnership that fizzled by the end of that fall. However, by 2007 the Rebels had hooked up with Springman Records' new imprint Silver Sprocket, and Keepsake of Luck finally got the spotlight. And despite numerous setbacks -- members leaving, uncertain touring and literally learning new instruments on the fly -- the kids of the River City Rebels deliver a phenomenal performance on Keepsake of Luck.

Much of Keepsake can be described as a "meeting in the middle" of sorts. When the Rebels toured with the Hold Steady and the Ratchets1 in the summer of 2006, they were playing alongside modern-day incarnations of Bruce Springsteen and the Clash. Keepsake of Luck channels both, melding a warm blend of Americana folklore and rousing anthems of empowerment into a horn-spiced dance marathon. Similarly, while splitting their time between their home state of Vermont and new headquarters in Seattle, the music of Keepsake sounds straight out of the Heartland, a should-have-been soundtrack for Huck and Jim as they rafted down the Mississippi.

While the Rebels have long distinguished themselves among other punk bands for their heavy use of brass, Keepsake sees the introduction of an even wider array of instruments. The album's title track whirls off the line with a howling harmonica and hip-shaking rhythm. By mid-song, singer Dan "The Bopper" O'Day is leading the brass section through a measure of major-scale blasts, which gives way as the harmonica re-emerges, joining the upbeat for a short-round of skanking before launching back into the sing-along chorus. The jovial piano notes being tickled among the layers of horns and dancey guitars in "Icons and Rosaries" sets an ideal precedent for the instrumental breakdown that alternates between stomping percussion and intricate piano and horn work.

"I've Seen," with its breezy flickering guitar, rolling bass and more leisurely rhythm emanates an almost Motown feel as O'Day delivers one of the catchiest melodies on the record. The song trails off with two minutes of piano that should have been clipped, but "Hopeful Romantic" doesn't take nearly so long to get off the ground as The Bopper wails "I see the stars and they're burning out / Makes me wonder if I wished this thing yesterday / And if I wish this tomorrow, could it happen again?." While O'Day's stretched vocal chords mostly sounded overdramatic on the Rebels' previous effort Hate to Be Loved, The Bopper is more soulful here, and the compositions benefit a great deal. And while the Rebels venture a little too far into Pink Floyd freakout land on the second half of the eight-minute "Bright Side," the thoughtful lyrical delivery and punchy beat makes the first half exceptionally enjoyable.

Yes, it looks like the kids from River City have pulled off another upset victory with Keepsake of Luck. Somewhere between overcoming the constantly appearing obstacles and seemingly endless frustrations of departures and delays, the River City Rebels were able to pull it all together and let loose one of the best records of the year.

1 - Editor's Note: The River City Rebels toured with the Ratchets who went on to tour with the Hold Steady, the Rebels did not tour with the Hold Steady..