The long lead-up to Bo & the Locomotive's second album is indicative both of the care that went into its writing and production, as well as the promotional push the band has been crafting. The past six months saw the group launch a listening party and fundraiser for the LP, which included a conversation with producer David Beeman, whose Native Sound studio hosted these sessions.
The band has begun more actively marketing itself and its music as well. Vice's music site Noisey debuted the NSFW video for "In the Water," continuing the band's avowed love of bared female breasts first established on the water-sprite sleeve for 2011's debut On My Way. But none of that -- the drawn-out sessions or interest-stoking or blog buzz -- would matter if the music didn't deliver. It does, and It's All Down Here From Here puts Bo & the Locomotive damn well near the top of rock bands working in St. Louis.
As if to bless the new record with an opening prayer, "There Is a Time" proves that a band accustomed to guitar-addled, nervy rock songs can be spare and spacious with little more than piano and over-driven organ. After that hazy, nearly lo-fi opener, "Never Afraid" kicks the record into a different sonic space. An insistent analog synth line is perhaps the biggest tell of Beeman's influence on the record, reminiscent of his work with Nee and Old Lights, while Bo Bulawsky's oft-laconic vocals and slow-burn songwriting feel purely kinetic.
Normally, there's little flash or dynamic range in Bo & the Locomotive's sound -- the songs sidle into a mid-range space that would be blasé were the band not so locked-in or the singer less committed to telling his sideways narratives. Bulawsky's delivery is charming and detached alongside the pleasing grain of his voice, but the tools he deploys here -- the knife-sharp movements of "In the Water" or the surprising tenderness of the domestically inclined "Cook" -- suggest depth instead of distance.
Down Here was recorded with the Locomotive Mk I (singer and guitarist Bulawsky, drummer Steven Colbert, bassist Andrew Arato and keyboardist Evan O'Neal) before O'Neal decamped to California and was replaced by two new members. We'll have to wait for the next LP to hear how the band operates as a quintet, but there's a grace in having the original gang on tape one last time. Part of the beauty of Bo & the Locomotive has always been in the group's synergy -- namely, that four lovable knuckleheads who were decent but hardly mind-blowing instrumentalists could make such sturdy, robust rock songs.
A lot of that credit goes to Bulawsky's songwriting and command of the song's center, but the band also shows flashes of the punk ethos of doing a lot with a little. Bo & the Locomotive's palette is expanded on the new record; the richness of O'Neal's keyboard arsenal speaks to Native Sound's analog devotion and Bulawsky's guitar work can be buzzy or sharp. But rather than rewrite the formula with its second record, Bo & the Locomotive refine what works and find richness in committing to that sound.
Bo & the Locomotive Record Release 9 p.m. Friday, January 23. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $10. 314-773-3363.
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