Nostalgia is an inevitable part of rock just as it is an inevitable part of everything from jazz to country to regional Mexican music, but the ways in which younger rockers express that nostalgia can vary considerably from one band to the next. There are some young bands that go out of their way to faithfully emulate rockers of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; the members of those bands might be a part of Generation Y but sound like they never listen to any recordings that are less than 25 or 30 years old. Other young bands, however, express their nostalgia by being only semi-retro in their approach, that is what Brave Baby do on Forty Bells.
The publicity bio that this southern outfit (which was formed in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2009 but is now based in Charleston, South Carolina) has been sending out to the media cites Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and The Band as prominent influences and gives the impression that Forty Bells is retro all the way. But in fact, nicely crafted songs such as “Lakeside Trust,” “Nothing in Return,” “Foxes and Dogs” and “Denmark” combine a strong appreciation of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rock with alternative rock and adult alternative influences. Yes, Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and The Band are influences, but Forty Bells also owes a creative debt to alternative rockers who include U2, the Gin Blossoms, Mogwai and Arcade Fire, among others. The lyrics on “Grandad,” “Days of Our Youth,” “Foxes and Dogs” and other tracks are unapologetically nostalgic, yet it would be a mistake to think that Brave Baby are oblivious to the alternative rock of the 1990s, 2000s and early 2010s.
Brave Baby (which consists of Keon Masters on vocals, Christian Chidester on guitar and producer Ryan Zimmerman on drums) have an airy type of sound that is at once rootsy and ethereal. Some roots rockers thrive on being gritty, tough, rugged and hard- edged, whereas Brave Baby bring a dreamy quality to all of their material. Even the most exuberant songs on this album (including “Nothing in Return” and “Living in a Country”) have that ethereal, dreamy element.
Country is an influence at times (certainly, the members of The Band were no strangers to country), and occasionally, Brave Baby draw on classic pre-1980s soul. This 43-minute CD’s title track, for example, has a blue-eyed soul influence. “Forty Bells” is a rock song first and foremost, but it is a rock song with a healthy appreciation of classic soul. Had Brave Baby been around 40 or 45 years ago, R&B stations probably wouldn’t have played “Forty Bells” and would have felt it was “too rock” for their purposes. However, it probably would have been well-received by rock stations that were open to playing some soul-influenced rock. On this 2013 release, Brave Baby shows their nostalgia not only with their fondness for classic rock, but also, their fondness for classic soul and classic country.
Some Baby Boomers have complained about young bands being so open about having Baby Boomer influences. Those Boomers have said that instead of emulating what they did musically back in the 1960s and 1970s, those young musicians should do their own thing. But there is a lot of truth in the saying that in order to know where you are going, you have to know where you’ve been. So nostalgia certainly has its place in rock music. And again, Brave Baby combines their 1960s, 1970s and 1980s nostalgia with a lot of modern alternative rock influences. One could say that on “Lakeside Trust,” “Denmark” or “Cooper River Night,” they are honoring the past without being enslaved by it. And Brave Baby’s ability to turn to both the past and the present for creative inspiration yields memorable, satisfying results on Forty Bells.