By Al Kaufman
Atlanta’s Faithless Town harks back to the ‘80s, when people like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp sang of small town struggles in the USA. At that time, millions of other bands tried to cash in on the sound, only to fall as fast as the poor characters they were writing about. Faithless Town thinks it’s time to try again.
American Refugee opens with “Ghosts of My Hometown,” an earnest look at a crumbling hometown that makes sure to mention abandon steel mills, penitentiaries and rivers; ever flowing rivers. Told in front of a rocking Americana beat, it’s meat and potatoes with some gravy. It’s nothing spectacular, but it fills you up and feels good going down.
Faithless Town is not opposed to a good pop riff. The ever catchy “Rings of Saturn” and “Key Bump” owe as much to ‘90s pop rockers Gin Blossoms or Matchbox 20 as much as they do Springsteen, Steve Earle, et al. The choruses stay in your head for a time after listening, but do not set up tents and stay.
The CD picks up on the last three songs. “San Andrea’s Fault” gallops along as it gleefully contemplates California’s eventual return to the ocean. “Well bring the kids, we’ll show you how that Disneyland is Sea World now,” sings Matthew Smith. The song has the attitude and style of Texas alternative country rockers Old 97s at their best.
The last two songs are sort of an ode to their main influence, Springsteen. “Rosalita Falls,” is a ballad that answers the question of what happened to the girl from the Springsteen party anthem, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” Turns out she was an illegal immigrant and is now forced to work in a garment shop with an overbearing boss. It may sound maudlin, but Gene Owens sings with the right amount of compassion, and Smith’s mandolin and James Hall’s trumpet keep the music from slipping into sentimentality.
They follow this with “Atlantic City,” the most popular cut off of Springsteen’s bleak masterpiece, Nebraska. Like The Hold Steady before them, Faithless Town bring a harder edge to the song about a guy trying to bring some fun to his otherwise meager existence. It’s the kind of song the boys of Faithless Town hope to be able to write on their own someday. They’re not there yet, but give them time.