The New Orleans rock band's new album goes a long way on the fun the members are having right now.
The Rolling Stones' unannounced Jazz Fest announcement has put the festival in the public conversation. Rather than figure out how the festival will accommodate 75-year-old men, let's think about what it will do with a band in its 20s. I predict that The Revivalists will headline the Gentilly Stage on this year’s version of “Locals Thursday.” The festival is currently short on local acts that can top the major stages, but the New Orleans rock band has worked its way up the schedule of the Gentilly Stage, holding the headliners’ crowds each time while adding its own. You couldn’t tell by the size or the enthusiasm of the audiences or the nature of the show that The Revivalists weren't topping the bill if you didn't look at your watch. The band’s recent album, Take Good Care, shows the musical reason for their growing appeal.
Musically, The Revivalists lives in a sweet spot on the song-oriented branches of the jam band family tree. The compositions have the blues at their root, but they’re never as explicitly blues-derived as any Chris Robinson project. The songs are immediate, but not as persona-driven as Dave Matthews Band. Dave Shaw is as crucial to The Revivalists’ as Matthews is to his band, but his point of view is less particular and he is less of an acquired taste. The rasp in Shaw’s voice suggests that he’s had life experiences, but they haven’t aged him.
The latter is important because one thread that runs through Take Good Care is that life’s not easy. Existential struggle can be found in each song, but so can hope or some similar counter. Too often, bands that reach the point in their careers when they need to step up and do so by sounding prematurely worldweary. The Revivalists are at that point, but instead sound very aware that these are the good times for them. Any darkness in their songs is balanced by the excitement that comes with having the future they dreamed of opening up in front of them.
Part of The Revivalists’ charm is that they’re identifiable. Shaw’s imagery is not particularly personal, nor his perspective idiosyncratic. Listeners don’t have to work to hear their lives in his songs, and Shaw’s gregarious performances make them want to. Still, the commonplace language in his songs becomes noticeable and loses its charm after a while. Take Good Care includes a run of songs with the well-used titles “All My Friends,” “Changes,” “Got Love,” “Next to You,” “You Said it All,” You and I,” and “Hate to Love You.” Many of the songs are better than their titles would give you a reason to expect, but by the end of that run, I found myself admiring the band for getting so much out of so little.
There and throughout Take Good Care, The Revivalists get over on their exuberance. The songs are strong enough, but the performances are those of a band that realizes it can do what it wants right now, and that feeling goes a long way.