If something looks different on the cover of Love and Theft’s eponymous sophomore release, you’re not counting wrong. The former trio is now a duo.
Two years after the band’s debut release World Wide Open, founding member Brian Bandas decided to exit. Rather than replace him, Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles decided to continue as a twosome. Now rebooting under a new label, the band officially releases Love and Theft this week, even as their first single “Angel Eyes” sits comfortably in the Top 10 on Billboard’s country charts.
It remains to be seen whether it was a tactical error for a band named after a Bob Dylan record to release a self-titled album (Google search is already having some trouble with it), but shifting from a trio to a duo may very well be a solid move for Love and Theft. The change in vocal arrangements is definitely noticeable between the two records; while in the debut album the band mates took turns in the lead vocal slot while the others harmonized on the choruses, the new record is dominated with two-part harmonies that vaguely hint at the Everly Brothers from time to time. Additionally, this new sound has been handed a collection of solid, radio-friendly tunes with country-pop sensibilities that will no doubt stick in the heads of many a country fan. It’s a well-framed and diverse set of tunes ranging from the funky vibe of “Runnin’ Out of Air” to the pop ballad “Amen” (relatable to every couple who decided to stay in bed on Sunday morning), to the sonically satisfying “She’s Amazing,” which could easily be a Number One hit for the band.
The one glaring mis-step on the track list comes in the last two songs, dual odes to hot chicks that are simply too close together in theme: “Girls Love to Shake It” and “Girls Look Hot In Trucks.” Considering Luke Bryan’s recent hit “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” the first song seems like a copycat, and while the second is more mellow than the first, it seems like they should have chosen one of the songs, not both. It shouldn’t be enough to put a damper on record sales, but it still seems like a track-list phone –in.
When a band goes through the level of change that Love and Theft has gone through (new format, new style, new label), it comes with quite a bit of risk: it can be a breakthrough moment, or it can be a disaster. Despite the record’s flaws, it’s apparent that Love and Theft has weathered the changes well. I can easily see the duo format taking this band all the way to the top.
ALBUM RATING: 3.5 Stars (out of five)