“The band clearly pulled no punches when it came to crafting this slice of heartland heaven. A genuine delight in every way."
Booking and Press: WesternStatesTheBand@Gmail.com
“From The Center Out”
Available July 19, 2019
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Just south of where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers become one resides a great confluence of American music.
St. Louis Mo. is where Chuck Berry wired together blues, R&B and country to spark rock ‘n’ roll. Where Ike and Tina Turner perfected the fine art of blowing a roof off a club. And where Uncle Tupelo welded together punk and twang.
Step inside one of the city’s brick and wrought iron adorned clubs and you’ll bear witness to this enduring tradition, musicians mixing basic elements of American music to conjure something new. It’s against this backdrop that Western States was formed, a band that includes some of St. Louis’ most accomplished bar rock alchemists.
Their debut album, From the Center Out, delivers character driven narratives on a rotating set of country-tinged rock. At the edges of their sound are atmospheric effects and the blues. And throughout the ten song collection their performance is dynamic and skilled. On Gun Feels Heavy, they coil into a potent rock ‘n’ roll outfit as lead guitarist Sean Canan tattoos riffs on the stomping rhythm section of bassist Bryan Maness and drummer Joe Winze. They simmer and rise on Catch You Turning Around. After a sparse arrangement by guest keyboardist Dave Grelle the band adds layers of instrumentation that culminate in an emotional crescendo. Intricate string arrangements by violinist Mark Hochberg and contributions by multi-instrumentalist Paul Niehaus IV add sonic depth and texture.
Singer-songwriter Tim Lloyd uses the band’s skilled performances as a platform to scan the rust belt and Great Plains for characters steering their lives through internal and external struggles. While listening to the storytelling and guitar-fueled arrangements it comes as no surprise The Riverfront Times once described Lloyd’s previous band, The Doxies, as “that rare creature, the great Midwestern rock band.”
While Lloyd’s writing on From the Center Out is informed by the cultural fault lines that have shaken the country in recent years, he sidesteps a reactionary tone.
“You can’t escape the sense of dread and anger in the country right now,” Lloyd says. “Next year will probably test America's soul in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was a kid. But this didn’t come out of nowhere. Deep inequities handed down from generation to generation keep pitting people against one another. I found myself thinking a lot about that while writing these songs. I wanted to dig up old demons who still pull the strings. I wanted to write songs that search for the deeper causes of everything from divisive politics to heartbreak and hope.”
Lloyd uses the album’s opening track, Fire and Rage, to establish a thematic framework that defines the album: Self-reflection to as means to cope and carve a path through turmoil. The abstract lyricism of Fire and Rage dissipates to reveal a series of vignettes rooted in gritty realism. Mostly singing through characters, Lloyd skillfully explores the internal lives of people living far away from the nation’s elite.
Not all the reflection leads to somber ends. On I Can Get Down, a former auto worker who was laid off during the recession is doing OK ten years later. Financially, he’s not back to where he was when he worked the line. But he’s not broke, either. Playing blackjack at a casino in Missouri, he draws a sly parallel between the state’s rules governing “riverboat casinos” and the larger economy. Years ago state law only allowed gambling on riverboats that could cruise on the water, but the casino lobby successfully changed the rules so that buildings suspended in a shallow moat near a river would qualify. The narrator knows this is yet another example of the house always winning. But life goes on, the complimentary drinks are flowing and he’s in the mood to have some fun: “I’m having a fine time/ Drinking on their dime/ Coming in here to win/ Bound to lose, by design/ There’s a game you see/ And a game you don’t/ And this riverboat casino can barely float.”
Lloyd tackles everything from parenting on Rivers to Cross. The national eviction crisis on Details. And even a boxer who can’t bring himself to take a fall on The Duke. While the lyrical subject matter is often weighty, the album doesn’t bog down. Thanks to the superb production of Jason McEntire, whose engineering credits include Americana torchbearers The Bottle Rockets and Son Volt, the low end thumps, guitars howl and snare drum cracks in perfect measure.
From the Center Out closes with Fever, a buzz saw of a rock song about the stresses life can put on even the sturdiest of relationships.
“I wanted to write a love song that wasn’t about the beginning or the end,” Lloyd says. “To get at the truth of a love that lasts. How it changes, how it ebbs and flows, how it goes through periods of doubt and renewal. And how ultimately having a connection with someone that’s strong enough to withstand all these stages is, in my mind, what gives life meaning. It’s what makes the hard times worth it.”
Lloyd doesn’t imply that things will ultimately work out. Or that the work to maintain a deep, human connection will ever be complete. It’s a fitting end for an album that isn’t pollyannaish about the difficult task of holding onto one’s values and relationships amid constant pressure. Yet there’s hope to be found. Hope in the notion that there are beliefs and relationships worth fighting for. Hope in the idea that we are capable of doing so despite the odds. Hope in, as Lloyd sings on Fire and Rage, “Stumbling through the wreckage/ Working through the night/ Deconstructing darkness/ Picking at the seams, and pulling out the light.”
All songs written by Tim Lloyd
Sean Canan: Lead guitar and vocals
Joe Winze: Drums, percussion and vocals
Bryan Maness: Bass
Tim Lloyd: Vocals and guitar
Hammond B3, electric piano, piano
Violin and string arrangements
Paul Niehaus IV
Piano and Hammond B3
Backing vocals on track 3
Arrangements by Sean Canan, Joe Winze, Bryan Maness and Tim Lloyd
Produced by Tim Lloyd
Recorded and mixed by Jason McEntire at Sawhorse Studios
Additional recording by Paul Niehaus IV at Blue Lotus.
Mastering by Brad Sarno at Blue Jade