Yearning runs like an electric current through Joe Armstrong's second album, Silverface Champs. Songs like "Nothing Left to Say" and "Free" cast hopeful shadows on grim situations - love that's grown tired, innocence that's been lost - through the eyes of someone who above all wants to believe there's a light at the end of the tunnel. But if the Chicago native's lyrics lean toward melancholia, his songs are jubilantly soaked in the well-worn leather of roots rock regalia: whistling organs, jangly Jayhawksy guitars, highway rhythms and the occasional trio of gospel backup singers. Armstrong's band, led by understated guitar slinger Tyler Macy, packs "Try to See It My Way" and "Anything for You" with bouncy twang and saloon-style stomp, taking a few cues from Exile-era Stones and early Wilco. As producer, Armstrong takes the album's rustic romp into Tom Petty territory, layering it with rich arrangements that get richer with every listen. On the gentle "Miles to Go," dreamy pedal steel and whispery mandolin capture an endless road of longing. The barroom waltz "This Time Around" finds everyone at their best, with Armstrong belting an instant sing-along chorus with guest harmony vocals by Jim Cuddy of Toronto's stalwart journeymen, Blue Rodeo, pianist Darice Bailey making the ivories dance, Daryl Coutts coaxing warm melodies from the Hammond, and drummer Andy Baker laying down a sweet and steady backbeat. But it's the driving opening track, "Heaven," that sums up the spirit of the record. "We spend too much time thinkin' about heaven and lost in our hometown," sings Armstrong, echoed by Macy's tasty Telecaster licks. Few songwriters make the beautiful drudgery of this American life such a rousing affair.
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