The last time The Maldives released an album, 2009’s Listen to the Thunder, the venerable cow-rock outfit was infusing the Northwest scene with a heaping helping of country while employing a lineup that neared Polyphonic Spree-like levels of absurd size. This time around, The Maldives are leaner and meaner in the numbers department, and the group uses the new setup to explore more of the rock half of their country-rock sound with Muscle for the Wing, due out Oct. 16 on Spark & Shine Records.
The Maldives’ slight stylistic adjustment is a welcome change, as Muscle for the Wing is an apt reflection of their amped-up live shows, which has always been their greatest strength. That’s not to say the twang is gone — not in the least bit. Banjo, southern-fried guitar licks, plucky barroom piano and Jason Dodson’s drawling vocals all still get their time to shine, they just happen to arise from burlier arrangements than in the past.
The album starts strong with the trio of harmony-heavy opener “I’m Gonna Try,” the catchy and riffy “Come On, Come On” (sure to become a hit in some fashion) and the plodding, classicly brooding rocker “Blood on the Highway.”
The album also closes on a high note with the suitably epic “Go Back to Virginia,” which uses a deliberate pace and plenty of swirling organ to set the scene for Dodson, who takes a “Don’t come back here now, ya hear” approach to the lyrics.
The Maldives get a bit adventurous in the middle of the set — the title track is a simple, pretty, 60s-style acoustic pop track led by a great melody from Dodson, while the hilariously titled “It’s Like, You Know” is an overtly country playful slice of honky tonk goodness that adds a little levity to their usually thick air of seriousness.
Muscle for the Wing is another solid effort, though the song lengths can be tiresome for the casual listener. But the tunes are all well-suited for their live show, which will always the best way to experience The Maldives.