There’s a current trend of bands looking to past generations of rock-n-roll for inspiration. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s clearly an affectation. While their influences are definitely visible, Red Collar is something different. The music they offer on their latest release, Welcome Home, out on Tiny Engines, is earnest, sincere. You listen and you’re drawn into the story of it. You’re in the thick and it moves you, not just emotionally, but physically. I couldn’t help but bop along with this record. While the vocals are mixed a little low, making it difficult at times to understand exactly what is being said, the message in each song is clear.
The album opens with “Orphanage,” a song about realizing that the place you are, the physical state—“I’m too old to be young and too young to be old”—or system—“No Ma’am, no Sir, and we owe you nothing”—you’re in, needs to change. That it is no longer a welcome environment and the time has come to find new lodging. Red Collar visits the human condition on “American Me,” the lead single off the album, opening the track with the lines “The first words I ever learned were ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ and ‘Hungry!’” “The Old Piano Roll” is a Billy Joel-esque story about a family of eight struggling to survive during “Depression days,” where the only thing that can save them from the darkness is music and the company of family.
“Fade Into The Night” shows the variety of songs/textures/feelings/stories the band offers up on this album. They never really play the same song twice, and that’s most evident in the difference between the jangly bounce of “The Old Piano Roll” and the driving guitar rock of “Fade Into The Night.” Where “The Old Piano Roll” concerns itself with the survival of one family, “Fade Into The Night” is a little more general, discussing how everyone eventually fades away. And while the song recognizes this as inevitable, it nevertheless pleads with the boys and the girls to fight. There is no giving up here.
If “The Old Piano Roll” is the Billy Joel of the album, “This House” is the Meat Loaf, an almost-power ballad to make Jim Steinman proud. “Dodge K” is the most fun, with its shouted background vocals and laughs. “Choices” is about freedom and the consequences of decisions, while “Two Daughters” finds the band returning to a highly structured form. “Losing My Accent” is the most subdued song on the album, and while it follows a similar “building”-pattern as some of the other songs, it retains a quiet subtlety that leaves the reader primed for the album closer, “Welcome Home.” This song, while not necessarily being my favorite (that title goes to “Fade Into The Night”) on the album, had the biggest impact on me. After the subdued nature of “Losing My Accent,” where Jason Kutchma sings about loss, this reverent almost-Revival tune is all about what has been found. While listening to him welcome the people and places in his life, I couldn’t help but drift away from the song and remember what it was like growing up in my own small town. We all have our own “Cemetery Hill.”
Every song on the journey between “Orphanage” and “Welcome Home” is important. The progression works like life; it’s a necessary journey we all have to take to find what we need. An orphanage is a home for lost children, and that is exactly what this album is, a collection of songs for those feeling lost, a place for the lost to call home. I could go on and on about my theories behind each song, but I don’t want to over-analyze it. I want to leave some surprises for you. Red Collar have written a fantastic album that deserves to be heard by many.