Arbor Creek is plying their trade as musicians playing forms that are considered moribund, if not outright dead, in the current marketplace. Good thing they didn’t get the memo. The Chicago four-piece’s highly individual brand of roots rock trades on a lot of echoes from the past, without question, but Thanks for Wading is only their second album and their mastery of pouring old wine into new bottles is evident. The opener “Shoes” serves notice listeners are in the hands of a distinctly different sensibility.
It’s blues, but skewed, cooked up in with a modern perspective yet full of dyed-in-the-wool blues-rock soul. Arbor Creek makes no secret of where its roots are. They are attempting to achieve a certain style of vocal effect, I believe, something that recalls the ambiance of the classics they’ve gorged themselves on since youth, and it’s a success. It recalls a classic rock vocal you’ve never heard before while keeping one foot planted in today at all times.
They have a quirky compositional sensibility reflected in the songs. “Shoes” is your classic love gone wrong song in many ways, even adopting phrases and imagery familiar to longtime fans of the genre, but the perspective is much more current. Arbor Creek does a successful job refitting these time-tested musical and lyrical motifs through their own personalities and modern turns of phrase. This isn’t purist in an obvious sense.
“Cold in Chicago” isn’t the band’s only foray into pure blues, but it’s the best. Their songwriting chops are obvious in an arch-traditional setting such as this, but the nervy, unsettled tone of Arbor Creek’s blues sets them apart once again. They take the unusual route of including instrumentals on the release and the first, “George and Eddie”, is a frantic romp spinning like topsy, yet equally adept at some particularly hairpin tempo shifts. It’s especially impressive to hear the band working, once again, as a live unit for this recording and I don’t hear a single flub or bum note.
“Power of the Throne” is the album’s second plunge into deep blues and the band excels once again. This is a little rawer than its earlier counterpart, but the band’s take on the style is cut from the same essential cloth. This doesn’t mean it’s filler in wake of its predecessor. The lyrical perspective is as idiosyncratic as the earlier fare and the aforementioned jagged edges of the song give it a different bite.
“Lovely Summer Day” is one of the album’s best straight-ahead rock songs. Arbor Creek doesn’t rely on the big, overstated riffs of band’s past but, instead, a more compositional approach. Their ability to cycle through a series of connected riffs is more key to their success and reaches one of its peaks with this song. “Dune Scave” is one of the most memorable moments on the release. This is the sound of Arbor Creek stretching out and defining what modern rock with a traditional twist really means to them – and what they want to convey to their audience. The textures are shifting, never boring, and the band maintains a firm grip from beginning to end.
It’s always loose, however, make no mistake. Arbor Creek changes up the freewheeling swing of the finale “Day Is Gonna Come – Day Is Here” with more of their near-patented tempo shifts; it isn’t difficult imagining the band elongating these condensed tracks into longer live pieces. It concludes Thanks for Wading on a remarkably relaxed though powerful note.
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