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Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown's `Truth and Lies' is a taut and thrilling record, exploring Bryant's blues heritage (`Ride'), blistering heavy rock (`Shock and Awe'), heartfelt balladry (`Out There'), southern roots (`Trouble'), love of the '90s rock and roll movement (`Eye to Eye') and more. The band recorded the album with six time Grammy nominated producer Joel Hamilton (The Black Keys, Highly Suspect, Tom Waits).
Guitarist Tyler Bryant has carried the expectations that come with a “guitar prodigy” label for most of his life. Having musicians like Jeff Beck and Vince Gill listen to his playing and say, “Yep, this kid’s got something” is pretty rare, and certainly a lot to live up to. But playing with the Shakedown eases that pressure somewhat, because the other three band members—drummer Caleb Crosby, guitarist Graham Whitford and bassist Noah Denney—have talents all their own that give this band an edge, especially when it comes to their live shows. With the early-year kinks of touring and recording mostly worked out and two full-length albums already on the books, the next logical focus for the Shakedown was songwriting—and Bryant was eager to dig in on Truth and Lies.
The start of Truth and Lies is reminiscent of the band’s last album, 2017’s Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown: there’s a lot of heavy rock, full-throated singing and a sense that the band is raring to crank the stereo up to 11. Bringing this much energy into the album so quickly sends a message in line with what Bryant told Blues Rock Review about the band’s attitude toward the rock genre. “We’ve been fighting for rock ‘n’ roll since we started the band. That’s what rock ‘n’ roll is about: it’s about being relentless, regardless of what anyone thinks about it,” Bryant said. With early singles “On to the Next” and “Shock and Awe” already popular with fans at live shows and on streaming services, it’s easy to understand the method of front-loading the album with some of the heavier rock tracks. Even so, it’s refreshing to hear the band change gears on “Shape I’m In,” a song that starts quietly with Bryant’s vocals quivering over light guitarwork. The song picks up quickly, a telling shift that shows the internal tug-of-war between the band’s passion for straightforward rock and growing interest in delicate, contemplative music.
Those moments of quieter storytelling are some of Truth and Lies’ strongest. There’s fun in rockers like “Eye to Eye” and “Drive Me Mad,” because these are the kinds of songs the Shakedown has excited its worldwide fanbase with for years, and they’re typically the songs on which Bryant, Crosby, Whitford and Denney get to dust off their technical skills. But songs like “Out There” and “Judgment Day” show growth, a willingness to try a speed the group of four most successfully tested four years ago with “The Wayside” (off the 2015 EP of the same name) but which they hadn’t tried much since.
Bryant has said that the music he’s most drawn to these days is that which feels truthful to him, and he’s attempting to subscribe to that same kind of honest storytelling as his songwriting evolves. It seems to be working; in addition to the thoughtful lyrics behind “Out There,” the band engages openly with topics like anxiety and self-acceptance on “Panic Button” and “Shape I’m In,” taking their interpretation of what it means to be honest with listeners a step further. It’s rewarding to see this kind of creative progress for musicians who already had so much going for them at the start of their careers. The Shakedown could easily go on opening for classic rock acts and playing the kind of music they’re instinctively good at for decades to come. But they don’t want to just do what’s easy; they want more than that. And they want more for their fans, too Meghan Roos