The past isn’t what it was. Time was when a beard and a hat signaled the aspiring rock gent to be slightly ‘out there’ and ‘mysterious’. Now it seems any goon thinks donning a bohemian ‘chapeau’ and not washing for a week instantly makes girls gravitate to you and you are ‘deep’ despite your songs being as substantial as a Pop Tart, and twice as teeth-rottingly boring. Thankfully this is not The Kooks.
For all their hats, beards, hair and Californian ways of hard-rock, harmony and epic songwriting you’d be forgiven for mistaking London outfit Alberta Cross for a Kings Of Leon tribute band. They are by all means and purposes songwriters Petter Stakee and Terry Wolfers (not sure who is the thief or heartbreaker) who while by no means are re-inventing the wheel are putting a few more spokes on it. There’s a fair amount of musical theft on show here, in a good way, and songs of heartbreak of vague, meandering nameless wants or losses.
The title track sets the tone for the album as it rolls out its bluesy carpet of solid mid-paced rhythm as guitars peel away in mini-figures, organs hum and sing and vocals are left hanging in space before being rescued by a harmonic raft of uplifting emphasis. Good times. Quite what Stakee’s singing about or why he’s so upset is another matter, but when the music is lovingly put together by music fans and their influences are so deep-rooted it goes beyond homage and becomes something of its own merit.
The pedestrian heartbreak of Lucy Rider coos over an anonymous fleeting damsel before Hard Breaks restores some meaty rolling rural rocking. It’s as wholesome as Neil Young grooving with The Doors with rollicking piano chords, stately organ, chunky guitars and yearning harmonies of industrial strength plaid with just a whiff of patchouli.
Ghosts of emoting singers creep out throughout The Thief and The Heartbreaker with dashes of Mike Scott (The Waterboys) and occasionally hints of the swooping vocal range Tim Buckley. Beneath all this lies an amber-varnished knock of authenticity of ‘real music’ where the rough edges haven’t been polished off and occasionally bum notes creep in.
Low Man sounds like The Verve on country cider in all its low-paced blues gravitas and howl of a vocal. I’ve Known For Long tells of more tales of blues-folk-country of that walking those well-known songwriters’ favourite ‘lonesome roads’. Old Man Chicago shares community hymnal harmonies with closer The Devil’s All You Ever Had which add a blast of sunshine through the dusty-aired blues.
So, while The Thief And The Heartbreaker isn’t going to win any awards for originality, it’s a harmless wallow in nostalgia for a musical period since past. Petter Stakee’s vocals may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he can squeal and wring every last drop of emotion out of these songs so they bleed, sweat and make your mouth turn up at the edges when you hear these tunes. See? Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt, sometimes it makes good if not amazing tunes. Now, where did I put my hat…?