The Strugglers’ music is defined, as all of the best singer/songwriter projects are, by the personality and voice of the singer, in this case Randy Bickford. In this case, the slightly gravelly voice of Bickford puts a surprising range of emotion into the modern folk/rock tracks he crafts. And the Strugglers create a rich rock accompaniment to match his vocals, adding strings, keys, and even horns to the normal rock instrumentation, filling his songs with a rich but unobtrusive quality that bands like the Red House Painters always pulled off so well.
Bickford’s vocals may take some getting used to for first-time fans, but others will be won over from the very beginning. Those unique vocals lend a worldly weight to his songs, and they’re filled with an emotional intensity often missing from this style of folk/rock. But Bickford’s band is no slouch either, and the songs range from soft and moody to upbeat and driven by intensity.
The album opens fearlessly with one of its strongest songs, the nearly perfect “Morningside Heights.” Rich acoustic guitars that chime at times, gorgeous violin, and Bickford’s emphatic vocals will win you over completely. The clear sounds of an organ-like keyboard give “Redeployment” a deep feeling that works nicely with the song’s softer pace. On “Out on the Main Drag,” the Strugglers remind me most of Red House Painters, as the song takes a kind of quiet intensity.
When you feel you have a sense of this band’s style, they throw a curveball in “Jonathan,” a light, Jackson Browne-esque keyboard-led pop song, up-tempo in its beat – especially as it begins to really rock – and yet more melancholy in lyrics. The title track is a gorgeous tune, flowing softly on rich guitar lines and a nice, mellow rhythm that has a phenomenal rock ‘n roll climax. The strings and keys in “Limerence” give it a nice, rich and emotionally powerful feel. The country-esque “New Form” is quiet and moody, “My Slow Reflection” closes the album soft, rich with keys and strings, but powerful and emphatic in its intensity.
I raved about the Strugglers’ last album, You Win, and I can’t stop from raving about The Latest Rights. It’s as rich as the the predecessor and as emotionally strong, and somehow the band just gets better and tighter, trying new instrumentation and changing the intensity throughout. It’s a flawless album from beginning to end, and it’s perhaps my favorite release so far this year.