The Rockwells – Place and Time

The Rockwells - Place and Time, 2008

The Rockwells Place and Time

The Rockwells polish up late 50’s and early 60’s era rock. This band veraciously styles their sound after power pop pioneers like The Zombies and The Yardbirds. On the new album, Place and Time, The Rockwells advertise a high gloss finish–but that shine comes at a price.

The album is more execution than soul. The band’s talent is undeniable, but their sound starves for the rawness of a young Jerry Lee Lewis or sincerity of Elvis. On Place and Time, The Rockwells never seem to lose themselves in the music. If the band doesn’t do that, then the listener won’t either.

The core of this Tennessee band is two sets of brothers. These guys are dedicated, investing a lot of time in nailing down the parts, melodies, timing, and rhythms. They get all of that right and even manage to keep up the music’s energy and add sophistication through enticing arrangements with various instruments and guest musicians. Guitars, pianos, synth, trombone, French horn, and violin team up with a deft rhythm section. The vocals are in key, sung from head, not the diaphragm, and are frequently helped by solid harmonies from backing singers and tracking. This band probably sounds great live.

After the intro track, Place and Time kicks off with “Tess”, an agile pop song featuring a fuzzed guitar playing a choppy chord progression to an active bass line. A potent bridge highlights this peppery track. The uptempo “She’s Already Gone” bounces through a winsome pop chord progression and solid back beat. The Rockwells’ songs always sound familiar.

At track five, the album goes on a winning streak. “The Quarterback” sounds effortless, as the bass, guitar and vocals ring warm and lonely. Keys and strings cushion the song’s end. “To Tell the Truth” resumes the album’s uptempo sound, rocking back and forth, threatening to bust into something ballsy, driven by the lead guitar and the lyric, “She’s nothing to me now, nothing to me / Hold on, hold on, hold on to my head please / When I needed someone, you were around / Come on, come on, come on, don’t make a sound”. “Middle Eight Waltz” follows, spinning a graceful and melancholic melody with acoustic guitars, violin, and bass under a ballad beat and electric guitar lead. The album’s best track is “Ten Years Old”, starring immaculate harmonies behind honest lyrics: “When I was 12 years old I met a girl at school who was much older / fell in love with her but found out soon enough she had her older life / I fell asleep with her one night in my own bed / I left her for the couch and dreamt that I was ten years older”.

But even Place and Time‘s highlights lack soul, and the rest of the tracks are additionally mired by spiritless vocals and redundancy. Unfortunately, the tight execution, arrangements, and harmonies can’t bring it home. Sometimes such sophistication can leave an audience with a lukewarm impression. But hopefully, The Rockwells will be back.