Vibrant ‘live in the studio’ collection from Drew Holcomb and his long-standing band The Neighbors, with Springsteenesque flavours.
‘Strangers No More’ is the ninth studio album from Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, a lineup dating back to 2006, with their first album released in 2008. Following on the heels of ‘Souvenir’ (2017) and ‘Dragons’ (2019), both reviewed favourably on these pages, the new album shines brightly from first to last.
Working with long-term collaborators, including Nathan Dugger (guitar), Rich Brinsfield (bass), Will Sayles (drums), Ian Miller (keys), and producer and friend Cason Cooley, ‘Strangers No More’ was recorded at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studios in eight days. Focussing on live-in-the-studio recording with eight to ten performances of each song, Holcomb remembers “looking for the revelatory moment”.
These moments abound, with each of the eleven tracks vibrant, in their contrasting ways. ‘Dance With Everybody’, featuring The National Parks, one of two co-writes with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, is an immediate crowd-pleaser of a song, up-tempo and uplifting, Holcomb describes how “When we played it during our last tour, I jumped offstage into the audience every night and danced my way to the back of the room. The 30-year-old ‘serious songwriter’ version of me would never have done that, but the 40-year-old me says, ‘Why not? That’s what you’re really like. Embrace it.'”
‘Find Your People’ has echoes of The Lumineers, with its percussive beats and anthemic chorus “In a world full of strangers, you don’t know who to trust/all you see is danger, trying to find what you lost/you can’t go it alone, everybody needs help/you got to find your people, then you’ll find yourself”.
There are Springsteenesque arena-show flavours to ‘On a Roll’, with Holcomb’s harmonica added to the mix, and ‘Possibility’, each with insistent rhythm guitar, and building to more big choruses.
Opening track ‘Fly’ in contrast starts with gentle finger-picked acoustic guitar, a reflection on the accumulation of experiences and how they mould our identity over time “I am an old road walking on my feet/I am laughing ‘neath the weeping willow tree/I am a dog barking/a honeybee sting/I ain’t no angel/but I’ve got my wings/I’m gonna fly/I’m gonna fly”.
Closing track ‘Free (Not Afraid to Die)’, a co-write with Natalie Hemby of the Highwomen, also strikes a reflective note on love and life “My love felt like a military exercise/completely void of all surprise, pull me from the wreckage/my heart was a run-down courthouse, no mercy and no pardons/a home with no garden, a bottle with no message/I want to be free/I want to ride through lightning/I want to be there when the water is rising/I want to let go of all the ghosts I’m fighting/I want to be free, not afraid to die.”
A very fine album indeed, and definitely a band to look out for live on the strength of the big and bold songs at its heart.