Jason Boesel, a drummer by trade, has long collaborated with Conor Oberst and played with the likes of Rilo Kiley and the Elected. But not long ago he came out from behind the kit and wrote a song called “Hustler’s Son,” sharing it with his talented cast of friends and collaborators. They approved, and “Hustler’s Son,” though certainly not this debut’s best track, understandably became its namesake.
Boesel has a fine voice, as brooding as Richard Ashcroft’s in the lower registers and as plaintive as Jim James’s in the heights, but where he really shines is as a lyricist. These songs are romantic little fragments of Americana, private matters turned universal through pleasant hooks that bend to rhythmic and sometimes very poetic words. “Pass me your hand, darling / I’ll touch it with mine” is a lyric in “Winking Eyes,” and just one of Boesel’s many fine rewrites of oft-sung-about ideas. “Was It, Man?” is all busy, dizzying words that punctuate with rhyme: “I know I will end / and you will end / well was it, then / all worth it, man / well worth it, then / man, in the end?” With the voice doing the work of both melody and rhythm section, the other instruments are just a quiet backdrop.
“Getting Healthy (Good Luck)” and opener “Black Waves” are standouts, featuring more inventive percussion and accompaniment. They’re also darker than the rest of the album, but only by shades, as much of this material feels like a meditation on scenarios bygone and hopeless. On “I Got The Reason #1,” Boesel performs energetically, but he’s in one of his many arid limbo states, coming to an only semi-convincing resolution: “I don’t care what you do anymore / behind your sliding glass door.” On “Miracles,” he introduces himself as an “empty can on a tailgate.” But the refrain of that song better captures the contradictions that run through much of the album: “It’s only rocking and rolling / there’s nothing to worry about.”