The Chicago Vin Coalition – American Dream – Album Review
It might just be me, but when the connection to music is an authentic one, it sure makes listening to tunes, artists & bands outside your normal genres of choice a lot easier to take on. Vin Earnshaw clearly just wants to ROCK…so he enlisted some life-minded musicians ready to rock-out with him – The Chicago Vin Coalition…at the heart of it all, I’ve got a lot of love for that. Even though it’s more on the straight-ahead side of the genre, it’s the enthusiasm and genuine passion they’re collectively playing with on American Dream that makes this experience worth your time. The freedom of expression and the spirit of rock runs deep throughout the classic-vibes you’ll find on this record…let’s check this out.
If you have a peek into the social-media and sites of The Chicago Vin Coalition, you’ll notice it mentions ‘garage rock’ as well. Believe me when I say, there’s a big difference in listening to garage rock upfront KNOWING that’s what you’re in store for and listening to it without having a clue about the intended sound or style – so I figured I’d lay that out there for you all right away. ‘Cause things will certainly get gritty on American Dream, it’s probably best that I prepare you as much as I can. Anything born out of a garage-mentality is likely to find itself with hits & misses along the way – but what I liked right away about The Chicago Vin Coalition was that this band seems to own that. You really get the sense from listening to American Dream that for better or for worse, whatever the results of their music might be on a technical-level, the real intentions here are to rock right out and have fun…and I can dig that.
Take the opening tune for example…impossible not to notice the influence The Kinks must have had on good ol’ Chicago Vin…the band is locked into a tune with similar pace, vibe and structure as the mega-hit “All Day And All Of The Night” with their title-track “American Dream” at the beginning of the record. Vocal-melody & flow-wise…this one’s pretty damn close…and if Robin Thicke can get sued for “Blurred Lines” being too close to Marvin Gaye’s original, well, I’m just sayin’ – careful boys! The main differences between tunes are established through the excellent energy that Vin brings to the song’s ripping chorus and the surrounding creative instrumentation & solos. Given the degree of familiarity, fun and energy within the performance on “American Dream” – The Chicago Vin Coalition invites you in warmly with this first cut, organs and guitars spiraling-out rock-induced good-times from the get-go. The verse I could take or leave, but I’ll certainly say with enthusiasm that I can vouch for the way that they hit this chorus perfectly with a wicked-rock edge in their sound that really hits the mark dead-on.
“Hey Little Girl” is probably one of my favorites on the record and one of the songs that I think represents the creativity in the music of The Chicago Vin Coalition the best as well. Somewhere between like…The Headstones, Junkhouse and like…Strawberry Alarm Clock…a song like “Hey Little Girl” exists in a mix of subtle groove-rock with a splash of psychedelic flavor for good measure. I think they do an excellent job here; the verse is loaded with character, the chorus carries the payload…the backing vocals provide the icing on top of what’s already a fantastic experience. Definitely one of their most complete visions and tightly-executed cuts that you’ll find on American Dream. Anyone out there familiar with Junkhouse will definitely get the comparison here…think of cuts like “Sky Is Falling” and the sound in Tom Wilson’s voice where it’s almost like, half-humming and half-singing in super-low tones…you can call me crazy if you like, but I think Vin sounds fantastic here. I will say this however – “Hey Little Girl” would go on to leave me searching for similar vocal combinations between the lead & backup like you hear working exceptionally well here for The Chicago Vin Coalition…and in a way, they can be found…but none as vibrantly and expertly performed as you’ll hear in the chorus of “Hey Little Girl” – they nailed it.
“Walk Away” is where things get tougher in some ways and brighten-up in others. What’s going extremely RIGHT for The Chicago Vin Coalition here is the approach to the verses; I think you get that real songwriter’s touch added into the verses of this cut…like that good ol’ storyteller’s charm on display. The instrumentation, particular the guitars, again, all killer no filler…the piano accenting the music along the way, solid & subtle but a main factor in the melody you hear. Vocally…the chorus of “Walk Away” experiences some raw notes that will cost them for sure…and I won’t lie, it ends up sounding bizarre due to the fact you can hear throughout the vast majority of this record that they know exactly what sound they’re looking for. So when those ‘Downtown’ moments come out sounding off – to me, it makes me wonder who in the hell was poking The Chicago Vin Coalition with a sharp stick saying that this HAD to be put out tomorrow, without giving them the chance to re-record a part they absolutely have to be aware needed the attention. Whomever that is, needs a kick in the nuts in my opinion – the rest of this track exceeds expectations in my opinion…but with that one flat vocal section being such a prominent part of this song, it is admittedly tough to separate the two parts enough to accept this song as a whole. Just a quick-fix required here…but that also speaks to the amount of time you spend on a record or how much you’re able to spend on making a record…it was a quick-fix, but maybe there was pressure coming from somewhere to get this out there, I don’t know. Sometimes we’ve gotta fight harder to make our art come out the way we want it to…sometimes other people in the band need to speak up when they hear something amiss or off-base…sometimes it comes down to self-editing and changing-up a part that’s just not working – there could be plenty of factors as to why. What makes it all as perplexing as it is, is the fact the rest comes out sounding so on-target for the idea they were going for…that’s what makes this experience weird on “Walk Away” every time I spun the record; they had to be aware of everything I’m pointing out, yet still chose to stick with it.
How about “No Use Fighting” though? Facts are facts…a lot of people won’t ‘get’ this one…we can deal with that all later, cause right now, I’m COMPLETELY into this cut. Everything production-wise gets super twisted here…they’re putting the garage into the garage-rock here…but they’re also doing it all in a tremendously kickass bluesy style that is nailing it for me. The guitars are incredible, the bass is perfection, the texture and atmosphere of this tune is completely off the charts cool in my opinion. Vin’s vocals here are at an all-time radness here too – slipping into what sounds like a Tom Waits approach to the blues from the writing to the performance and production, but especially in the low-growling attack he’s put into each and every line he sings. It also brings something really unique to American Dream as a whole and sets the stage for the smoothness of “Silence Is Golden” to enjoy the benefits of one of the coolest sonic-transitions on the album.
I think “Silence Is Golden” would stand a great chance of being a single from this record. The Chicago Vin Coalition should tour with Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders, a rock band we’ve reviewed here on the regular here at sleepingbagstudios that they’d fit right in with through tracks like this one – just sayin.’ The blissful CRUNCH in the tones of the guitar solo on this tune is absolutely one of my favorites on this entire record. Overall, I think they’ve done an exceptional job on this tune on many levels – the verse is great, the chorus is solid too…but the REAL twist here, is that the use of space is incredible in their steady pace on this song…which gives it all an additionally nice ironic twist on the song’s title, don’t you think? I have no clue if that was intentional – I just know what sounds good and this does! They’re hardly ‘silent’ anyhow – just more like…patient here, if that makes any sense. I think they’ve got themselves a verse that’s got just as much hook & pull to it as their chorus does, making this that kind of audio double-threat that makes this rhythm & groove a top-contender for a single that could pull the people in. I’m not 100% sold on the ‘do-do-dos’ in the background mix of this one when they popped up at around the 1:30 mark…that might have been stretching the idea one step too far…but the rest I thought was inarguably hook-laden and accessible to all. I’d be willing to bet the reaction to this track is pretty universal…it’s got a real chill vibe to its rhythm that really makes you want to listen.
“Blonde Infatuation” gets to enjoy the enthusiasm that’s been building through the strong mid-section of this record – and that MIGHT be influencing how much I like this particular cut. Maybe. I can’t say 100% for sure…”Blonde Infatuation” might very well be just another great song on this record in its own right. I love the pianos, I love the saxophone in the mix, but above all things, I love the amount of character and charisma they’ve got on display here…drum beats are right on the money, the guitar, piano and sax solos are all incredibly wild. Freedom of expression has top-billing on this highly-creative and all-out FUN jam they’re locked into here…Vin sounds fantastic with the growl in his voice here once again…they’re all so right into the moment here that I think it’s impossible to help going right along with them. I have no problem admitting that “Blonde Infatuation” is not likely the kind of song I’d normally be blasting loud’n’proud, yet here I am doing just that thanks to The Chicago Vin Coalition. I know I keep coming back to the instrumentation and solos etc. – but LISTEN to the tone of the guitar in the solo around the 1:30 mark…I mean…C’MON…that’s gold right there is what that is. I felt like “Blonde Infatuation” was one of the best surprises on American Dream…I really didn’t see this one coming from what we experience on the album to this point, but I was certainly happy to hear this included on the record once they got jammin’ on this tune. Style points added for the perfect exit from this cut.
The longest tune on the record is “Ride Past Midnight” at over seven-minutes & thirty-seconds in length – but I’d say that plays to their advantage as The Chicago Vin Coalition heads into a more traditional blues-rock sound on this tune. With the world’s most reliable bass-lines being grooved on perfectly here, the Doors-esque keyboard sounds and a truly awesome performance being put in on the harmonica – even though this feels more familiar than most tunes from the blues-rock style, I still felt like I could have taken a lot more of this one than just a mere seven-minutes & thirty-seconds plus! There’s zero-doubt about how well The Chicago Vin Coalition know the blues-rock style…if there was, “Ride Past Midnight” would silence any doubt pretty damn fast. You name it and they’re KILLIN’ it here…the musicianship, instrumentation and CHOPS come out ready to play here and the entire groove of “Ride Past Midnight” storms through the verses with the bold confidence of a band that sounds fully in control at all times in this style. Bonus points for the excellent keyboard solos…the AMAZING stomping chorus of “Ride Past Midnight” and another highlight performance in the vocals; those grinding & crunchy guitar chords sound incredible alongside the seriously impressive harmonica added into the mix here. I really can’t say enough about it…that harmonica is SO AWESOME that you’ll completely wonder why it hasn’t been featured on every song along the way…it’s THAT good. That pound & stomp through the chorus of “Ride Past Midnight” is one of the real highlight moments of any tune on the record as well…I absolutely love the energy they have in that moment, great vocals too.
Part of me wonders if they should have cut it right there…or if the layout of the record was serving the music as best it could…because things start to change and the enthusiasm starts to leave the sound of The Chicago Vin Coalition a bit at the end. Any song would have likely had a tough time after the pumped-up performance of “Ride Past Midnight” and the extended length of the experience…and “Yesterday’s Gone” I think suffers a little bit as a result. Just a little, not a ton…no panic…it’s still a decent tune. Overall, I think it’s actually one of the best written tunes on the album…maybe a few corners that could be tightened in the harmonies and energy in the performance at times, but idea-wise, I think it’s another solid idea. It’s a really gentle melody…I suppose that’s where I’m at with it…and to me, I think here’s where the music would benefit from taking a bit more of the garage outta there and smoothing this one out as much as possible. I shouldn’t complain – it’s really damn close to where it needs to go and not really far off the mark; I can understand why they’d want a more downtrodden energy to the chorus of this tune and it makes sense…again, it might only be by the comparison to the approach to the surrounding tracks like “Ride Past Midnight” and “Life Line” to follow that make it seem like “Yesterday’s Gone” needed a bit more…I dunno…something…some oomph to go with the mellow. I’ll say this much…I think there’s a potential that exists for the idea on “Yesterday’s Gone” that is unlike any other of the record…I think there’s a sincerity that’s kept intact through the honesty in this performance that still stands an excellent chance of resonating with people and the more times I listened to it, the more I seemed to like it myself. It does after all, have one of the most gorgeous endings they’ve got to a song.
Wasn’t a massive fan of “Life Line” – but they pull it off well. If anything, this tune compared to what we’ve heard so far from The Chicago Vin Coalition sounds like it would be a walk in the park for them…which kind of works against them a little at the end here after the extraordinary build-up through the middle of this record. Punky, straight-ahead garage-rock is definitely a tool in their arsenal – but you also have to recognize the amount of creativity and art on display throughout the mid-section of American Dream…and as a result of hearing all that imagination from performance to production, “Life Line” does come out sounding like it has a more simplified approach right at that final moment to make an impact on us and have us all ready to re-spin the record. So…they’ve taken a chance here in a way, by cranking up the energy but dialing back the amount of dynamics they’ve put on display for the majority of the album. Decent lyrics…I think you can hear this cut comes out being a bit more personal than some of the others and I think above all things, that’s what I appreciated the most about this final cut. Well…that and the guitar solo of course…but you’ve heard my opinion on that plenty already.
It’s a pretty solid record overall…lots of imaginative ideas within their own approach to rock and lots of places they could take it all in the future. You expect a few moments of quirkiness in any music that would self-describe itself as garage-rock…and quite often, a lot of that quirkiness is part of the charm in the energy of The Chicago Vin Coalition’s music and works solidly to their advantage. Bottom line for me was that, the more they got ‘weird’ or ‘expressive’ – things seemed to take an artistic turn for the better and they developed some highly imaginative tunes on American Dream…I think the more they embrace their own creativity in that sense, the better the overall results will become over time. Bottom line for them is that you can hear they’re having fun doin’ their thang…and that’s always a quality that translates to listening ears.
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