Veterans of South Florida music community bring forth the wonder of waiting for different delights.
For lesser mortals the Covid-spiked surge of creative juices could have run after a single album, but Billy Livesay and his collective just couldn’t stop and, less than a year after "The Rhythm Of Love And Dysfunction" saw the light of day, out comes a follow-up record. Deceptively lighter on thrills than its predecessor, “Not What I Bargained For” is heavier on surprises, though. What can be seen as parochial embracement of the ensemble’s erstwhile Americana – something that seemed on the decline since 2016’s "Hold On... Life Is Calling" – makes a turn at an unexpected point and replaces alienation, so typical for our times, with hymns to hope.
Not that the riff-riding and piano-propelled chug of “Two Sides” lacked catchiness, its lyrics lambasting conspiracies propagated by social media in a world where “everybody knows your name” and laughing at today’s humanity, yet this radio-friendly number feels too familiar – a certain New Jerseyan has been there many times. Not for nothing the South Florida band pour choral harmonies on Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind” from “Lucky Town” here, once their own country serenade “In A Small Town” has set the scene for the blistering blues of “In Troubled Times” to chase away the pain.
Serenity established, the strings-washed “Can’t Stop The Talking” will offer sweet swooning to help heal the listener’s soul,a and the imagery gets intimate in the acoustically kissed “One More Chance” to let Billy’s voice and slider caress the tune and pass this precious momentum to the platter’s retro-styled title track. So there’s no wonder in the appearance on the album of such playful perennial as “Hold Me” which the quintet drench in punchy, rocking romance. However, the remorse behind “Drunkard’s Lament” is rather molten, and “Show A Little Honesty” – whose weight Livesay’s husky, honeyed vocals elevate to heavens – is one of the most moving ballads delivered in 2021, rivalled only by “Better Angels”: the soaring, if scintillating solemn, trip to the heavy pop of the ’70s.
And then, there’s the optimistic comedown of “Crazy Isn’t It?” – the most fitting finale for the disc that keeps on giving and growing with each new spin – which is, paradoxically albeit logically, another high for this collective.