Roger Clyne hit the scene fronting one of my favorite groups of "snotty boys with guitars", the Refreshments. With a sneering, know-it-all voice and tight, clever lyrics, Clyne and the Refreshments laid down songs like Banditos and Down Together that showcased characters who were victims of fate and their own bad choices.
As a solo artist, Clyne keeps those characters alive by playing the old songs, but his newer material shows more maturity. With less sneer and plenty of heart, he writes more about grown up problems and less about youthful irresponsibility. This reflects the sincerity and gratitude of his stage persona.
Unida Cantina reflects this with songs like Dinero, which keys on personal integrity and debt, or Marie, that offers an unflinching look at the cost of sin. But Clyne hasn't gotten soft -- the emotional regret in Marie has no self-pity, just a sad acknowledgment. My favorite track, Empty Highway, centers on a fringe character, but without the false bravado of Clyne's older songs. The story here is hinted at: a life has slid out of control and the singer is trying to figure out a next move. Meanwhile, the music sounds like a bluesy take on George Harrison's I Me Mine.
Alcohol, THC.In a single song, Clyne sums up the story arc of Breaking Bad.
We're packing heavy
Be all you can be
Brown bag of $20s,
A head full of Jupiter
And as we drive into the sun
And all the good we thought we did has come undone
In the end I find I'm back where I'd begun
I'm on an empty highway with a loaded gun
The mix of Americana, alt country, and rock on Unida Cantina will sound familiar to Clyne's fans. As always, the Peacemakers are the perfect backing band. The arrangements emphasize fills and backing elements more than pyrotechnic leads and the Peacemakers smoothly execute the songs with a sweet economy. From anthemic sing-alongs to stripped down reflections, the album's flow showcases Clyne's writing and expression.
If there's a fault with Unida Cantina, it's a lack of novelty. Unlike some artists, Roger Clyne is settling into himself rather than trying constant reinventions. The upside is that each new Peacemakers album will deliver more of what the fans love.