3.5 stars (out of 4)
The dB’s came and went in the ‘80s, fervently adored by those who heard them (their first two albums weren’t even released in America) but otherwise destined to be discovered posthumously, if at all, by power-pop aficionados and connoisseurs of smart, ultra-melodic guitar rock.
Fortunately, there is a second act for the original New Jersey-via-North Carolina quartet of Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Gene Holder and Will Rigby: “Falling Off the Sky” (Bar/None) marks their first album together in 30 years. This isn’t one of those reunions best viewed through the lens of nostalgia. It’s as good as any of the dB’s original albums, busting out with a wake-up call, “That Time is Gone,” that signals this isn’t about merely rekindling barely remembered glories. Over Holder’s pile-driving bass and a garage-punk organ, the dB’s have never sounded nastier. Then they slip into the soaring harmonies of “Before We Were Born” and the horn-flecked Southern soul of “The Wonder of Love,” and it’s clear the band has returned with a trove of excellent songs and their accomplished instrumental skills well-honed.
Even Rigby contributes a rare song, a string-swept pop-soul tune that could’ve fit on a Box Tops album with his old friend, Alex Chilton. But once again it’s primarily Stamey and Holsapple swapping songs, as if in friendly competition to outdo each other. Stamey’s “The Adventures of Albetross and Doggerel” crashes through the looking glass, an acid-tweaked slice of Alice Wigging Out in Wonderland rock, punctuated by Rigby’s orchestral drumming. Yet his “Far Away and Long Ago” couldn’t be more direct and vulnerable, a sparse, neo-classical ballad with Stamey singing at the top of his range.
Holsapple’s “World to Cry” pounces with a typically sharp guitar fill that becomes a hook, and its accusatory tone turns suddenly poignant – the kind of twist that makes the dB’s best songs resonate. Better yet is the haunting “She Won’t Drive in the Rain Anymore,” in which the former New Orleans resident comes up with one of the finest post-Katrina songs yet written.
The dB’s slam the album shut by declaring, “I won’t be back again.” If so, it won’t be because they’ve fizzled out. Unlike many rock reunions, “Falling Off the Sky” sounds like the work of a band still very much at the top of its game.
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