When you consider The National Reserve and their story so far, it’s only fitting that for the first few seconds of their new LP, Motel La Grange, we hear nothing but the guitar and voice of bandleader Sean Walsh. Framed by the crisp touches of that guitar’s distortion, it’s a strong introduction to a vocal and vision that’s cut with just enough sand to match the grain in a glass of whiskey. Guiding the direction of the group he founded over the course of a timeline spanning years, lineup changes and countless nights onstage, that distinctive point of view kept the project alive and in bloom while establishing a foundation strong enough to withstand the unknown. Now with the long awaited Motel La Grange, The National Reserve’s current ensemble shines bright, carrying the listener through the flurry of soulful melodies that form the classic structure and spine of their songs. And while it’s technically not a debut release, Walsh, guitarist Jon LaDeau, bassist Matthew Stoulil, keys player Steve Okonski and drummer Brian Geltner have made a record that’s a full expression of their past, present and future, making it feel like a sweeping introduction to a band’s music as it was always meant to be heard.
Exploding to life like a jolt of electricity, opening track “No More” bristles with adrenaline, ushering in a sense of the freewheeling tenor that so effortlessly steers this collection forward. It’s a salt of the Earth sound that’s rooted and rich, natural and real. Although if there’s one song that pays homage to their bar band beginnings the most, it’s the traditional, stinging blues of “Found Me a Woman.” Instruments respond to each line Walsh sings over a succession of bruising verses that build until you can just about picture the band on a dim stage, surrounded by tables with full ashtrays and empty bottles. But there’s warmth to it all, too, preserved alongside a rock and roll heart that’s dizzying and pure. It’s perhaps because that sound stretches so far and encapsulates so much that even the most laidback, sun kissed grooves hold the promise of something just a little bit darker. It’s there in the lonely reverie of “Big Bright Light” the vulnerability in “Don’t Be Unkind,” the longing of “Motel La Grange” and the distance that separates in “I’ll Go Blind.” It all adds up to an album that often feels timeless in its commitment to concise, expressive storytelling and foot stomping choruses, making Motel La Grange an intoxicating dive into the music that forms a new limb of the classic rock family tree.
Article: Caitlin Phillips