We’ve been seeing it since the dawn of time: when one band finds success, record company execs stumble over themselves trying to sign the next great version of that band. Rarely is the next great version actually found: instead, what we usually end up with are tepid versions of the original, competent yet missing that certain intangible (and more often than not also missing decent songwriting). Case in point: the critical success bands like Royal Thunder and Blues Pills have enjoyed in recent years. Record labels are wading through quagmires looking for the next great female-fronted retro blues/metal acts, and tossing half-baked ideas at us in the hopes that something sticks. So I find myself peeling Travelin Jack’s second album, Commencing Countdown, off my face, and trying to figure out which echelon they belong in.
Travelin Jack clearly live in the 70s, despite the band saying “there’s nothing retro about our material.” Talk about self-delusion. First, the band members have stage names like Flo The Fly, Steve Burner, and Alia Spaceface. Second, they put themselves together like a DIY-lite version of Kiss, with goofy clothes and even goofier makeup. And third, they list old-time acts such as Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple as influences. Honestly, that kinda works for me, gimmicks and all, as long as they can play and write. These Germans gave us a good taste of what they were about on 2015’s debut New World, so here’s hoping they can take things up another level.
Commencing Countdown kicks off majestically with “Land of the River,” and you know immediately where the focus is: Spaceface and her impressive pipes. But she’s not the only member who impresses quickly, as a solid, infectious groove that’s in no rush plants itself in the ground. “Land of the River” proves itself to be a perfect opening song, featuring great writing, a solid performance by the band, and some stellar vocal work. “Metropolis” carries on with more of the same: it’s a song that will definitely kick ass live, and for the more aurally discerning amongst us, it’s fun to hear the tape flange effect on the hi-hat. “Keep on Running” has a slinky riff, and is the most Blues Pills-y song here, while “Galactic Blue” is another grinding stomper that will kill live.
Sadly, Travelin Jack can’t maintain momentum through the ten songs presented here, and the reason for this frustrates me. Spaceface has a great voice, but it’s more effective when kept in check, and too often throughout Commencing Countdown she sings the hell out of the songs – too much hell, to the point of exhaustion. “Cold Blood” is a decent galloper of a tune, but the vocals get shouty, tiresome, and annoying. Slow burner “Time” should be her showcase, and during the slower moments it almost is, but she just can’t keep her performance in check all the way through. “Miracles” is grating, while “Fire” has an awesome pure 70s riff that is destroyed by shouting. It’s such an annoying performance that it almost negates all of her great work on earlier songs.
So when it’s all said and done, where do Travelin Jack fit within the greater scheme of things? Certainly not on the same level as Royal Thunder or Blues Pills, but definitely in the tier just below. A bit of restraint on the part of Alia Spaceface, a bit more variation in the songs, and the band could be on their way to bigger things. As it stands, Commencing Countdown is the kind of album that will have you pulling two or three songs out and adding them to your Favorites playlist. Here’s hoping the band’s next album as a whole can end up on a list like that.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Websites: travelinjack.bandcamp.com | travelinjack.com | facebook.com/travelinjackband/
Releases Worldwide: September 8th, 2017