Paper + Plastick Records
Nashville TN’s Blacklist Royals couldn’t have picked a better moment in time to release their sophomore effort, Liberi Semper. Against Me! is atop the charts bringing gritty punk rock to the masses, and the growing popularity of The Gaslight Anthem has resulted in a newfound nostalgic love for all things Bruce Springsteen. Liberi Semper amalgamates all of the above, offering a really solid reminder as to why we’ve come to love and embrace these emerging icons.
Unlike many bands simply testing the waters and flowing with the currents, Blacklist Royals sounds completely genuine in their approach, turning out tunes that simply couldn’t go unsung. The first several tracks find the band diving right in a letting lose with some feverous drunken energy. “No Looking Back” wastes little time kicking off to a celebratory display of American rock n’ roll spirit, grounded in the lively hum of short organ keys and vocalist Nate’s youthful sense of battered worldliness. It’s a combination just begging for a Rancid comparison. In fact, even the sing along chorus and title sharing phrase of “Howling At The Moon” sounds like something that could easily pass as a Tim Armstrong sung classic (minus the mouth full of marbles). Other tracks, like “White Line Forever,” get a little harder to nail down, but vocally lend themselves to a weathered Nothington comparison.
Around the midway mark Liberi Semper begins a subtle evolution, shifting from their punkier persona over to a nostalgia driven recollection of emerging Americana. Many critics lump Blacklist Royals loosely in with folk punk, and while I think that’s a stretch, these tracks certainly make for a convincing argument. Upon hitting that half way mark a steady ballroom piano (think Kings Of Nuthin’), intermittently plucked acoustic guitar, and brief violin cameo on “Tennessee Blues” take over. And then there’s the loose acoustic studio number “Drive On.” Relying on a simple hand-clap for rhythm, this tight little ditty has all the fire of a band on the road – celebrating within the confines of their cab without audience as they travel tirelessly between venues: it captures the essence of a very personal performance and speaks to the strength of the band as a unit. A few tracks later, in “Jolie Blonde,” they build on this grassroots feel and even haul out some bagpipes for a fantastic celtic fusion circa Flatfoot 56.
With Liberi Semper Blacklist Royals has turned out a diverse collection of punked up tunes that really rock – in many, many ways. And while all this variety might sound overbearing, Blacklist Royals holds everything together with a sound distinctly their own. I’ll admit, sometimes they wear their influences on their sleeve overly so – the opening on “Love The Back Seat” sounds as if ripped right from The Gaslight Anthem’s “Old White Lincoln” – but they never suffer for it. Instead, they adeptly control their influences, rather than the other way around.
Their previous album, Six Strings, was good, but Liberi Semper is a new career high, and one that Blacklist Royals will have to work hard to top. One of this year’s essentials.