Album Review: Have Gun, Will Travel – Science from an Easy Chair
Have Gun, Will Travel are a savvy, interesting Americana band that will tickle the fancy of many listeners. Rather than the tired old cliches of American music, Have Gun, Will Travel provide an alternative twist on the genre. Their compositions are unique and harmonies on point, but it all comes together for a flavor that feels new age, contemporary, and even at times a little on the cool side.
The opener “By Endurance We Conquer” uses a voiceover lead, probably taken from some type of lecture or historic speech. The vocals, then, provide the backdrop. I won’t venture to guess the voice or the overall message, but it ushers in a unique structure for the album. The following “Spirit of Discovery” reminds listeners of something that could have come from a Springsteen album (albeit with a bit more twang). It’s a slice alt country, a slice 70s rock n’ roll, and mostly just a toe tapper about the adventures of leaving home.
Fans of the Drive-by Truckers will probably find Have Gun, Will Travel quite amenable. They have the same kind of rollicking alt Americana feel, while at the same time keeping some pretty challenging lyrics at the heart of the music. My favorite part, easily, are the gang vocals on the chorus. That said the repetitive lyric about the “true believers” is one that resonates deeply. It strikes me as the kind of song that would be a blast to sing with at a show.
Just when you’re ready to call it an alt country album, “Madhouse Promenade” comes along and basically feels like it could have come from a punk band. I mean, it’s still a bit more melodic and rock than punk, but it’s definitely got some grit to it. The beat is just about as addictive as any on the album.
One of the longest songs – and one that has the most “epic” feel to it – is “Goodnight Sweet Chariot.” It’s not a big song in the sense of its sonic structure. But there’s a feeling of immediacy to it, even though it’s a downbeat. Remember the feeling you had the first time you heard “Free Bird” where you were like “yeah, I want to head bang and slow dance at the same time.” It captures that. The steel guitar absolutely steals the show on this one. I can’t be sure, but it feels like it might be a bar closer.
“Good Old Shakespeare” is one of the songs that explains why I insist on calling this an Americana album. The beat is quintessentially Americana. The whole loose western swing to it is infectiously enjoyable. It sounds like the kind of song that was neither written nor expected to be heard by sober people. That is not to say it’s sloppy or anything, but that it slides and slurs itself in a way that feels like it would be best enjoyed “comfortably numb.” The lyrical content is this sort of irreverent attitude toward great literature with a drinking song to the memory of William Shakespeare. The irreverence sells it, though. It’s a good song.
“The Rescue Party” is an intellectual song. It’s about the “purgatory of forgotten things.” It seems to be the kind of song that kicks around the familiar insanity that we all share. The atmospheric composition of the track also helps to aid with a sense of the unknown. The penultimate “Despair and Redemption on Elephant Island” is definitely the darkest track on the album. In terms of sheer performance, though, it might be the best executed song on the album. There’s a real feeling of excellence to it and the guitar line reminds me of something from a great classic rock song. The refrain of “show me the way to go home” seems to capture a seeking mentality that appears elsewhere on the album. There’s a definite existential grasping that comes through in a variety of ways in this surprisingly polished album from Have Gun, Will Travel.
“Bottom of the World” ends the album with just the note you want from an Americana album. It’s got a little twangy twist on a Dylan-esque tune. The lyric “spirit of discovery burning in our hearts” harkens back to an earlier song on the album and the sense of adventure present throughout the album drips through in every line here. It’s a wonderful folksy ending to an album that touches on many sub genres.
I ended up liking this album even more than I first remembered. Not only are the musicians accomplished, but they seem to take themselves just seriously enough. The songs show a variety of styles and messages. As the album ends with another nod to Shakespeare, it seems that the band is happy to tease out a few different themes and sustain them throughout the album. I’d say fans of the Drive-by Truckers are most likely to enjoy this entertaining alt Americana album.