“Twangy” Alt Rockers Massy Ferguson certainly capture the spirit of America’s struggling lower/middle class on their sophomore release, Hard Water. Taking the perspective Bruce Springsteen popularized in the early 70s, and John Mellencamp emulated soon after, their stories of hardship and angst go well with their rock (and slightly country) sound. However, while the group will definitely satisfy their target audience, outside of satisfying genre conventions, there isn’t anything new or special on Hard Water.
Hailing from Seattle, the quintet consists of Ethan Anderson (vocals/bass), Adam Monda (guitar/vocals), Tony Mann (keyboards), and Dave Goedde (drums). After touring the globe in support of their 2008 debut, Cold Equations, as well as opening for members of Phish and the Grateful Dead, they began working on a follow-up in 2010. Adorers of simple, earnest tales about hardworking American everymen (and women) will find Hard Water full of pleasant melodies and standard chord progressions, but those looking for more depth and uniqueness will find only commercial blandness.
“Long Time No See” opens the album with much the same passion Springsteen conveyed in his early years, and Anderson even captures some of the same intonation (although he’s not nearly as gruff or forceful). The harmonies are subtle but enjoyable, and the keyboard fills in the space nicely. And, of course, there’s the token clean guitar solo; it would be perfect as the theme to a sitcom or prime time family drama, too.
Although every track has radio appeal, “What You Decide” would be a perfect single. Lyrically, it focuses on everyday hardship, and the steep pedal guitar skates around piano chords nicely. “Freedom Country,” to its credit, rocks out pretty well, and the incorporation of flute easily makes it stand out. The most affective track comes with the delicate “Dreams of St. Petersburg.” It’s quite atmospheric and encompassing, letting the keyboard and vocals dominate over guitar. Finally, “Aspartame” closes the album with acoustic guitar and harmonic chanting. Sequence wise, it’s a perfect ender.
Hard Water doesn’t do anything especially right or wrong; rather, it’s one of those albums that play in the background without drawing attention to itself. Sure, like all music, there are a few moments and elements worth mentioning, but the big picture is just okay. And, even though Massy Ferguson do their best to channel their own identity, one can’t help but connect them to their influences; if you’re in the mood for this type of rock, go listen to Springsteen’s 1975 masterpiece, Born To Run. It did it first, and better.