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Bridge City Sinners – “In the Age of Doubt” Album Review

jtpao 07/05/2024


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Folk N Rock
Bridge City Sinners – “In the Age of Doubt” Album Review

Amanda Beckwith

The Sinners’ Sermon – How Bridge City Converted the Masses

In 2021, the Bridge City Sinners unleashed “Unholy Hymns” upon the world, and to many of those in the folk punk community, it felt like a revelation. I know for me that the very first playthrough, it kind of felt like this was going to be something of a game-changer. The raw energy, the haunting melodies, and the power of their sound captured not only our hearts here at the site, but the black hearts of folk punk fans everywhere.

It wasn’t just me singing praises of “Unholy Hymns,” it clinched the title of best folk punk album of the year in our annual roundup. To me it felt like the Sinners had struck gold, making a record that hit so deeply with fans with its subject matter, it went as far as to hitting the Billboard charts.

What’s often overlooked is how “Unholy Hymns” had this awesome ability to serve as a gateway into the world of not only folk punk, but much darker music. In my circle, and I suspect far beyond, this album became the key that unlocked a whole new realm of music for countless fans.

It went from “not your grandparents’ folk band” to “yeah, they now are your grandparents’ folk band” – because even Nana and Pop-Pop have become listeners. So to me it seems like the impact of the Bridge City Sinners extends far beyond their own success – they’ve become a catalyst for growth within the entire folk punk community. Their ability to attract and convert new fans hasn’t just swelled their own ranks; it’s expanded the genre’s reach as a whole.

We’ve seen concrete evidence of this phenomenon right here at Folk N Rock. In the wake of “Unholy Hymns,” our website logs lit up with a surge of searches for “more bands like Bridge City Sinners.” This was not just a win for one band, it was the rising tide that lifts all ships in the harbor.

And now we’re just a week away from the release of ‘In the Age of Doubt,’ the follow-up to ‘Unholy Hymns.’ Which you can pre-order now via Flail Records. If you’re wondering if the Sinners managed to catch lightning in a bottle twice, spoiler alert: they have. And this time, it’s a bit different. In many ways, “In the Age of Doubt” serves as a direct sequel to “Unholy Hymns,” revisiting similar themes but with a more cohesive thread tying it all together. And this time, it’s much more heavy in terms of style, and the music.

As the title suggests, this time the focus is squarely on doubt. While it may not be a concept album in the traditional sense, most of the songs here explore different facets of doubt, each contributing to a central emotional theme. They’ve created a smorgasbord of emotion that examines doubt in its many forms and contexts.

But enough with the broad strokes – now I’m going to get into the nitty-gritty and see how this exploration of doubt unfolds track by track.

Breaking Chains and Strutting Through Doubt

“Break the Chain” kicks off the album, bringing in just a bit of The Sinners’ signature sound. The song opens with a cascading rolling like melody, like a river rushing over stones, each note gleaming with a bright, metallic tone. Lurking in the background, that subtle bassline rumbles like a distant thunderstorm. It’s a subtle effect, a hint at the storm that’s about to be unleashed. And then, just as surely as Lightnin’ follows thunder, Luke comes in as strings surge in to meet the bass.

Libby delivers some truly exceptional vocal work throughout this track. She doesn’t hold back, pouring even more emotion into the chorus. And I mean, as we all know, she just has this amazing ability to convey depth through her performance. Right after the chorus, we’re transported to high noon in the Wild West. The influence of Ennio Morricone’s iconic Spaghetti Western scores becomes unmistakable. This is such a cool little shift and adds some more unique flavor to the track.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating, especially given this interlude in the track. If you’ve got the means, it’s absolutely worth shelling out for a top-notch pair of headphones. This song is a prime example of why that investment pays off. The attention to detail in the production really shines through when you’re listening on quality equipment. You can pick up on all the subtle nuances and layered elements that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Because there’s this incredibly atmospheric part where the bassline really makes its way through the stereo field. It creates this almost surreal effect, and it’s complemented by these beautiful, haunting choir-like vocal riffs in the background. This is the kind of thing that just gives you goosebumps. And you can just feel the sound swirling around you, pulling you deeper into the music.

What’s cool about this song is that it almost seems like it’s told in chapters. With agony, memories, apathy, and finally, bravery. And it just unfolds like journey through emotional states, each verse opening a new chapter in a tale of struggle and resilience. It begins with a sense of overwhelming pain, an agony which seems inescapable, weighing heavily on every step.

We’re then taken into the realm of memories. And they are not comforting recollections, but rather persistent reminders of past troubles that will to fade away. They linger, adding to the burden already carried. And to me, this part really taps into the experience of dealing with intrusive thoughts, something that I feel will also hit deeply with anyone who’s grappled with severe anxiety.

The story then shifts to a state of apathy, where hope seems to have vanished entirely. The world appears bleak and uninspiring, leaving you feeling numb and detached. To me, this describes perfectly the experiences of depersonalization and derealization. Finally, we encounter a paradoxical form of bravery – one born not always from strength, but from the fear of facing another day. It’s a courage borne of necessity, of continuing despite the overwhelming weight of existence, and how things, well, are just going to change no matter what.

‘Port Street Strut’ comes in like a shadow in the French Quarter at dusk. This brief interlude, clocking in at just under a minute, conjures up the spirit of New Orleans in its darkest, most beguiling form. The track oozes with the essence of the Big Easy, serving up a haunting jazz atmosphere that feels like it’s drifting out of some forgotten speakeasy. It’s the kind of sound that makes you glance over your shoulder, half-expecting to see spirits trailing behind you in the misty evening air.

As ‘Port Street Strut’ casts its spell, it guides you into ‘Midnight To Vice’. The transition is smooth as Louisiana molasses, maintaining that eerie, jazz-infused ambiance. Libby steps into the spotlight here, embodying the role of a sultry chanteuse in a hidden speakeasy. Her performance is mesmerizing on this track, her voice dripping with the kind of allure that could make even the angels question their convictions.

And I feel like the brass section deserves a standing ovation, perfectly capturing the intoxicating energy of those smoky clubs. As Libby dishes out the lyrics, it’s like she’s whispering secrets directly into the ear of every lost soul in the joint. Her words come across as a warning for those down-on-their-luck folks looking to drown their sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. It’s as if she’s seen it all before, watched countless people stumble down that path of sin and regret.

To me, this song feels like it’s about the fine line between escape and entrapment, pleasure and pain. It deals with the seductive yet perilous nightlife scene, and the dangers of overindulgence. And it’s like a warning, suggesting that this world of pleasure and vice comes with hidden costs. At the end of the song, she and the band deliver the last line with that old “Shave and a Haircut” (two bits) call and response note. If you’re unfamiliar with the reference, if you’ve ever knocked on a door, you’ve probably done the two bits note.

“Heavy” kicks off with some stellar string work by Luke, with Clyde keeping it cool on the banjo setting a moody tone. The harmonies on this track are absolutely killer – they really take it to another level, and I love this section. As we hit the second verse, things really start to pick up. The rhythm shifts into high gear, and suddenly we’re in the middle of a full-on hootenanny. It’s like the song itself is mirroring that rush of euphoria described in the lyrics.

And just when you think you’re soaring, the song brings you right back down to earth. It’s a cool parallel to the lyrical theme of feeling “heavy in the morning, light as a feather when I sleep.” The instrumentation follows this emotional path, starting slow, building to a frenzy, and then fading out slowly.

I think this duality in the music perfectly captures the ups and downs described in the song. It’s like you’re experiencing the high of escape and then the crash that follows. It’s as if reality is slowly seeping back in, bringing with it all the weight and troubles that were temporarily forgotten.

And it feels like someone struggling with feelings of emptiness and using substances as an escape. Describing the nights that feel endless and still, leading to the temptation to get intoxicated. With those shifts between feeling weighed down in the morning and a false sense of lightness when under the influence.

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‘Doubt’ opens with an eerie atmosphere, largely created by Luke’s haunting string work, with a rolling riff from Michael. The track gives you this doom and gloom ambience that sets an unnerving tone. Libby’s vocal performance is particularly noteworthy here. She seems to embody the voices of inner doubt, delivering harsh vocals and screaming growls that add to the unsettling atmosphere. This approach effectively conveys the mental struggle often associated with doubt and negative self-talk. In other words, she’s the voice in your head.

Near the end of the track, Michael’s main riff takes on a darker, deeper tone. This shift in the latter half of the track gives it an even bigger moodier effect, perfectly complementing the lyrical themes and vocal delivery. The overall effect is a track that not only sounds ominous but also feels psychologically charged.

But this is a track that deals with super intense themes of inner turmoil, self-loathing, and mental struggle. It’s about someone grappling with negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness. There is a focus on internal conflict, talking to the voices in one’s head spreading lies and doubt. The song gives you this battle against these intrusive thoughts, warning against giving in to them.

Doubt is something very difficult to deal with. The anxiety that stems from it, is just conspiracy theories about yourself. And who wants to sound like Alex Jones? But that’s what makes it so difficult, and why mental health issues are such a struggle—because rational thought goes out the window. And this song does not go light on the harsh realities of doubt, instead it gives them to you in all their uncomfortable glory.

‘The Crawl’ opens with a fiery little nod to the Spanish classic ‘España Cañí.’ You likely have heard this melody before on any type of media that deals with matadors bullfights. It’s a spicy little intro that gives the song a nice kick right from the start. Then the tune takes a turn, settling into a steady groove that’s got this carnival vibe. No, you won’t hear any tinny fairground organs, but there’s something in that flow that makes me think of a slightly off-kilter merry-go-round.

As I’ve come to expect, the harmonies in this track are absolutely gorgeous. But then, Libby throws up the horns and goes full metal. Her scream when she belts out “The Crawl” during the chorus is enough to make your hair stand on end. That’s what I absolutely dig about this track, its awesome contrast – the way those heavenly harmonies clash with Libby’s devilishly delicious screams. It’s like a tug-of-war between angels and demons, and it’s freakin’ awesome.

Lyrically, this song’s taking us on one heck of a journey. It’s all about that last goodbye before setting off into the unknown. I’m getting this sense of leaving everything behind, losing yourself, and facing some hard truths along the way. The Crawl itself, I think, sounds like a tough slog through life’s rougher patches. One minute we’re talking about filthy rags and empty cans, the next it’s designer labels and big dreams. It’s like watching someone’s life flash before their eyes, from rock bottom to the heights of what could have been.

‘End of the War’ sees The Bridge City Sinners taking a turn towards traditional folk sounds. While they’ve built their reputation on being far from your typical folk outfit, this track shows they can go deep into the genre’s roots when they want to. The song maintains the band’s signature dark atmosphere, but wraps it in a musical style that could easily be mistaken for a long-lost Irish ballad. It’s a clever blend of the Sinners’ modern dark gritty edge with time-honored folk traditions.

At its core, the song touches on themes of oppression, hardship, and the relentless nature of conflict and war. The line about only the dead seeing the end of war adds such a very, very powerful, and haunting element to the track. There is a nice callback to the band’s own history with the reference to “Unholy Hymns,” which fans will appreciate.

Saloons, Shame, and Survivor’s Guilt

‘Crazy’ stands out to me and is one of my personal favorite tracks on this record, though picking a favorite on this album is like trying to choose one of your fourteen kids as your favorite child – it changes with the wind and the phases of the moon. What makes this track shine is Libby’s unparalleled vocal talent and charisma. She’s singing; and she’s storytelling, breathing life and emotions into the lyrics . Her ability to switch from adorable cuteness to downright psychotic intensity is on full display here.

She just has this way of conveying emotions that most vocalists can only dream of. She doesn’t just perform the song, she becomes it. You’re not just listening to ‘Crazy’ – you’re experiencing it. It’s like you’re sitting across from someone that’s looking right at you, tilted head, a wide-eyed, a crooked smile, as their hand pets the empty air beside them, for a dog that isn’t actually there.

To me this song feels like a lighthearted approach to mental health issues. Because sometimes, alongside the usual remedies of proper nutrition, exercise, and serotonin, what you really need is a perspective shift. It’s about accepting the hand you’ve been dealt and finding a way to play it like a winning one. It’s the dark folk equivalent of turning lemons into lemonade, but with a twist of lime and maybe a shot of something stronger. It’s as cathartic as it is catchy, which it might just make you feel a little better about your own quirks and struggles.

‘Spear and Blades’ is another prime example of why splurging on a top-notch headset is worth every penny. From the start we are treated to some bright, twangy banjo tones that’ll make your ears perk up. Then, in comes this funky, rockabilly bassline while the instrumentation on this track is like a mischievous sprite, darting from one side of the stereo field to the other. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole, with different elements popping up in your left ear, then your right, then back again.

You know that feeling when someone’s tapping you on the shoulder, and you turn to look, but they’ve already zipped to your other side and start tapping there? That’s exactly what this song does to your ears. And this is one of those songs that seems to be an exploration of the all-consuming nature of war. It speaks to the grim realities of conflict, presenting them in stark, unflinching words.

‘Shame’ showcases some standout moments where the string sections really shine. These lonely guitar parts add a powerful emotional punch to the track, and again, does an amazing job and giving us this haunting atmosphere. Despite the heavy subject matter, the song has a surprisingly lively and energetic feel. There’s a distinct Gaelic flavor to the music, and it feels like it’s almost evoking the spirit of the Emerald Isle.

Libby once again effortlessly switches between clean, clear vocals and these intense, banshee-like wails, perfectly matching the emotional intensity of the music. It’s like the music is wanting you to move, while the vocals are pulling you into a more dark space. But this song is about guilt, regret, and the lasting impact of past actions. It goes into how shame can become an all-consuming force, leaving visible marks on a person’s life and psyche.

It deals with someone grappling with memories that won’t fade, struggles that compound over time, and a sense of defeat. There’s a feeling of being trapped in a cycle of shame, with each day darkening into metaphorical chains. Near the end, the song touches on the hopelessness and self-destructive tendencies. It gives us this understanding of why others might want to distance themselves from someone carrying such a heavy burden of shame.

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‘Sinner’s Saloon’ comes in with this smooth, jazzy swagger of the big easy, serving up a cocktail that’s equal parts enticing and dangerous. As the main melody comes in, you can almost see the scene: a dimly lit saloon on the edge of town, its neon sign flickering in the night. And she is right there, leaning against the doorframe, – a world-weary saloon girl with eyes that are watching the road, waiting for the next lonely traveler to stumble into her web. We also get some really great backing vocals here, echoing and amplifying Libby’s words.

And the track goes on about this seedy establishment as place that caters to lonely travelers and those seeking escape from their troubles. The saloon offers various temptations, including alcohol and companionship, promising comfort and pleasure to its patrons. But the comfort offered is temporary and potentially exploitative, with patrons waking up alone after their experience.

This is a track that deals with loneliness, desperation, and trying to find a way to escape from life’s hardships. It presents the saloon as a place where outcasts and troubled souls can find a sense of belonging. It does a great job of exploring the complex dynamics of a place that profit from people’s loneliness and need for connection, while also acknowledging the temporary solace such places can provide to those who feel lost or alone.

Lightnin’ Luke is just popin’ off on ‘Eye for an Eye.’ This song has some very exceptional string work, with Luke kind of taking the lead for the track. The rest of the band follows suit, creating a tight, cohesive sound and it’s just an all around joy to listen to. The harmonies on this track are something special as well.

Now this track is about the futility of revenge and ongoing conflict. It speaks to those persistent struggles, pain, and the cyclical nature of retribution I suppose. There is this never-ending battle between two parties, where neither side seems able to break the cycle of retaliation. Despite all the pain and bloodshed, nothing really changes. The memories of hurt persist, and the cycle continues unbroken.

‘The Good Ones’ kicks off with some fantastic banjo work and a great fiddle melody. Plus, Libby throws in some yodeling as well. But this is a pretty serious song as it questions the fairness and the meaning of life in the face of loss. All of that confusion and hurt of being left behind, wondering why it wasn’t you instead.

This is a common thing among those experiencing survivor’s guilt. You can almost feel the weight of the questions here – why them and not me? It’s that gut-wrenching feeling of guilt that comes from simply existing when someone you care about is gone. When all joy in everything, seems to fade.

The Epilogue at the end of the album gives you this perfect bookend to this story, clocking in at just under 40 seconds. It’s like the band’s way of gently easing us back to reality after the wild ride we’ve been on.

Erasing All Doubt: The Sinners’ Latest Is Pure Gold

I set the bar incredibly high for this album, and Bridge City Sinners not only met it but soared over it. Their blend of Americanized dark folk, jazzy Appalachian bloodgrass punk rock is present in full force, delivering everything I was hoping for and expecting. However, what caught me completely off guard was the album’s unexpected role as a therapeutic experience.

As you sit there, you might find yourself changed. Maybe you’re a little more in tune with your own inner demons, or maybe you’ve found a strange comfort in knowing that even in the darkest of times, there’s a band out there that gets it.

While the music itself is nothing short of amazing, it’s the lyrical content and storytelling that elevate this album to another level. The way the band has crafted these stories leads me to believe that this record will deeply resonate with those grappling with doubt in any aspect of their lives. It feels like this will be a companion for those navigating uncertain times.

It’s a wild ride through the darkest alleys of the human psyche, the raucous energy of a prohibition-era speakeasy, and the haunting echoes of folk traditions. A one way ticket to a world where the lines between joy and sorrow, sanity and madness, blur like watercolors in the rain. It’s a world where banjos and fiddles tell tales of heartbreak, where harmonies clash with screams.

So here’s to the Sinners, the ones who’ve transmuted pain into poetry, doubt into defiance, and shame into a searing soundtrack. They’ve reminded us that in a world that often feels like it’s burning down around our ears, sometimes the best thing we can do is strike up the band and dance in the flames.

The post Bridge City Sinners – “In the Age of Doubt” Album Review appeared first on Folk N Rock.
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