It’s easy to hear Amigo’s And Friends and understand it as the sonic accomplishment that it is. Its older brother, Might Could, is a bit wilder, definitely more ramshackle, and more willing to throw caution to the wind. And Friends is much more introspective and focused (Mitch Easter’s engineering is masterfully on display here). It locks in like a vice, creating the trio’s most well-rounded and cohesive work to date. You’re still going to have a hell of a time on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and you meet an authentic heaviness that confirms Amigo’s sophomore album exceeds expectations.
If you’re listen and find yourself a bit surprised by the juxtaposition between tone and tongue, empathize with how principal songwriter Slade Baird must have felt after he looked back at what was being written and started to connect the dots. You can read the full interview over at The Charlotte Observer, but to summarize it, And Friends exists around the end of a lengthy relationship where personal reflection and perspective (including time spent working on a film in Iraq) are only a few pillars of support.
The other pillars? Well, they’re mostly in the album’s title. For us, the title is as much about the idea of community and support as it is about those who were on hand to make a damn fine album. What’s truly amazing about the creative process once the writing and recording started is how everyone, even the outside parties, knew right away what the guys were going for. That’s saying a lot considering Amigo float in this world where Dave Edmunds, Robert Earl Keen, and John Hiatt walk side-by-side, and that’s just scratching at the surface. With that in mind, let’s peel back the layers a little more.
Smacking you right in the face with weariness and hesitation, “The Big Idea” coils itself around a tale of waiting for something better and expecting that something to be a clear improvement on the previous situation given that the last time was “almost something good.” Unfortunately, we know how the story ends. Winding itself to the point of metaphorical strangulation, the trio snap the tenuous strings wrapped around them in a furiously tense ending that you can’t help but find yourself falling in love with. You contrast this with “I Wanna Live” later down the road, and you consider the road taken and the gaps filled that lead to that midpoint.
To get there, Amigo tackle John Prine’s “Everybody” with vigor. It’s the way a cover should be done. You then see these gaps to get to the end of Side A are more like chasms. A rift is more than noticeable in “(When I Fool) You (Into) Loving Me (Again).” Hope is ever present – hell, the title uses ‘when’, not ‘if’. There’s such a decided certainty that any other outcome seems downright preposterous on first glance. But alas… One of the most powerful tracks on the album comes in “Bless Your Heart,” a track that was dusted off and reworked from a previous band Baird and drummer Adam Phillips were in together. Yet, here it is, as personal as the situation it found itself representing ten years ago, down to each moral an allusion represented.
Then, a breath, a meditation, and a realization of what’s done is done on “I Wanna Live.” It’s merely setting the stage though. There’s the faintest heartbeat keeping this love lingering. It’s powered by life support, but it’s a heartbeat nonetheless. “Those Old Clothes We Liked Are Back In Style Again” sees Baird’s words connecting the halcyon days of the relationship to fading trends as a way to say, “Remember when?” When things seem intent on politely taking your heart and tossing it away, “Underground Medicine” offers a reprieve that acknowledges the force that powered the dying embers of what was. That force? A place where punk records were ordered from.
If And Friends were a book, “Own Trip Now” and “Too Far Gone” would serve as the clear falling action. The former understands that the inevitable is upon the situation while it dabbles in the album’s most unique production and experimentation. It sends well wishes that only occasionally look in the rearview mirror as the latter winds things down. Rather than seeing himself as the one who can control or mend whatever may come, Baird sees some things are just beyond his power. But seeing that and accepting that are two very different matters. Thus begins the next chapter – something far different than the context held within this release will allow.
A reprise of sorts begins to close and write whatever is next. “Almost Something Good” reaches an endpoint that simultaneously represents a commencement for the unknown. Gorgeous in the glow it basks in, you get the feeling that the cracks and potholes left behind gave birth to a new peace. You can’t help but think that the next path will be traversed with understanding gained. Will there be cynicism, doubt, and maybe some extra apprehension? It would be seemingly antithetical to human nature to not exhibit these characteristics, yet you can’t help but think this smile that has been worn through heartbreak is now a scar from lessons learned. It’s a smile that will be worn with new meaning for what lies ahead.
And Friends is available on Amigo’s bandcamp. Get ready to hit the dance floor, but watch out for your heart on the ground.
08.02.2018 / By Joey Smith