This Is My America
If you considered their debut "Worthless Lesson" album a slap upside the head, you better duck. Route .44's sophomore release is a haymaker. The album, called "This is My America," can be likened to Russell Crowe's first big line in "Gladiator"... "Unleash Hell" or Gerard Butler's, as Leonidas in "300"... "Prepare for Glory."Yeah, "...My America" has just that kind of ferocity. The current lineup of Route .44 came together just under five years ago, with stand up bassist and production guru Eric D. joining in '05. In 2007, they earned a Motif Music Award for Breakthru Band of the Year. In 2008, they were dubbed Alt-Rock Band of the Year by local music junkies. Here at Motif, Roots music columnist John Fuzek first noticed Route .44 as an upstart roots outfit throwing together crazy elements of various genres into a richly-saturated oblique tour-de-force. The debut work, "Worthless Lessons," leaned mainly on the bands roots foundation, coming across as much gospel as roots-rock at times. Despite the fact that band leader and lyricist Ian Lacombe peppered the album with hard-edged lyrics in songs such as "Addiction" and "Worthless Lessons." The sound, vocals, and arrangements are an acquired taste, to some degree. You're not likely to catch Route .44 on mainstream Clear Channel stations like WHJY, or corporate alt-rock such as WBRU. There's an oblique power and beauty, admittedly not for everyone. "This is My America" demonstrates a clear maturation into more forceful songwriting and an uncompromising social critique noticeably absent in this time of war and crisis. "Music has always been a mirror of the times. This album is a continuance of that tradition," songwriter Ian Lacombe says. "I have always been a fan of music with a conscience from Anarcho-punk bands like Crass and Conflict to Woody Guthrie and Country Joe and the Fish. "I think we are living in a time when we need more social commentary in music. I don't think people really want to be spoonfed the latest Britney Spears song about how difficult her comeback has been... I mean,do we really give a f&%$k about that." One of the more pertinent and in- your face tracks, 'My America,' indicts American apathy, political deceit and the dark cruelty harbored by human souls. Referencing the album's title, 'My America' could double for Johnny Depp's big "Sweeney Todd" number. A blend of breathless harlequin and burning disdain, Lacombe continues his raw wordsmith excellence. 'My America' would be like Jim Morrison joining Disturbed and bringing his poetic psychedelia on a Warped Tour. Vocalists Jess Powers and Teri Pimley conflate an angelic foil to Lacombe's demons. But with the new Route .44, halos tarnish fast in an anti-harmony of vice: Take my money, give me pain. Put me out on that train. Again, the way you use me. I thought I was forgiven, but I cannot stop my sinning... I dream of a catastrophe, already in the making. In which we are like insects, tryin' to build a hive. Like drones we all operate without the ability to think for ourselves 'till the day we die. And our queens will just make more of us, as we succumb to thoughts of lust... perpetuate our existence to further make us slide. This is my, this is my America. This is myAmerica. "As far as the darker imagery in the lyrics goes, I think that's simply a sign of the times," Lacombe says. "The world is getting darker, wars are raging, our economy is shrinking, and resources are disappearing. "In a nutshell, the world shapes the music I present, and personally, happiness isn't really inspiring to me. I don't write love songs because I'm not inspired by love." Throughout the 10-track "My America" disc, Route .44 threads themes of sin, vice, betrayal and fury. The new material has more edge than the 8-member band's "Worthless Lesson" release. "My America" comes across dirty, sexy, and lust filled, merging more heavy rock, jazz and blues elements than before. Sax men Matt Swanton and Paul Choquette shine, as does Pimley's lonesome viola work, and Eric D. (upright bass), Jud Lisiecka (percussion), and Rob Champagne (drums) lay the groundwork for vocals to soar, mingle and fall to Earth. On perhaps the most musically brazen track, 'Trinity,' blaring horns, driving bass and percussion are challenged by the lofty vocals of Powers and Pimley, and contrasted by Lacombe guttural mixing of the parables about Hindu God Vishnu and the first testing of a nuclear weapon. The test, like the song, is called Trinity. Site director for the Trinity test, J. Robert Oppenheimer, later said that a line from the Hindu scripture the "Bhagavad-Gita" came to mind: "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." Lacombe uses the line repeatedly. "When I was about 19, I really got into researching the development of the Atomic Bomb," Lacombe says. "I was always enthralled with Oppenheimer. He was an incredibly compassionate man, and a brilliant scientist, whom I think was devastated by his own creation." At the time, nuclear test director Kenneth Bainbridge reportedly said to Oppenheimer, "Now we are all sons of bitches." Pithy Americans! But 'Stimulus Response' lays claim to the most lyrically fierce song on "My America." Down, down, down. This place burns to the ground. Desperately, we pursue our happiness like rats in the street. When our backs are broken and our knuckles raw, we work from our knees. Hope is what we feed ourselves at night. Have some, it'll make everything alright. In poverty we're spoonfed the scraps of a Bourgeois roast. A loaf of bread to feed five thousand, while the CEO's toast. We can rise up. We can greet them with a storm. Or lay down and accept what is the norm. 'Stimulus' operates as an unabashed political revolutionary call, devoid of any real hope that a response will follow. Lacombe's lyrical tact points to the obvious... we're all screwed. So stand up, or take it like a beat dog and just roll over. There's plenty more solid music on"America," including steamy 'Lonely Together,' with a sultry jazz-based groove courtesy of Eric D. "This is My America" makes the blood rush fast and hot, makes you smile at the thought of sin and lust. Jim Vickers - Motif Magazine - April 09.