Marlon Rabenreither is a throwback to the days when songwriting was entrenched as a celebrated art form. The music he crafts under the moniker Gold Star is in a word – timeless. His first two albums, Dark Days and Big Blue, captured the energy and spirit of the late ’60s and ’70s when rock ‘n roll and folk-rock were at their peak. Today, many of those artists and bands are legends. With his third album Uppers & Downers, Gold Star scales his own summit to deliver a memorable record that is still etched in the classics, but its stories are told through the prism of the present.
His third LP contains twelve distinct stories that are bound together by one common thread – they are tales about endless wanderers. Some exist in this world and others are in the afterlife, but in each case the characters are seeking meaning, hope, or love. They are seeking the things that make us human. On the Jeff Tweedy-esque “Crooked Teeth”, Rabenreither foreshadows what is to come when he achingly sings, “I’ve walked the sidewalks for fifteen miles now, just to see you again”. The words are just the start of a beautiful and well-crafted journey that surprises with each turn.
“Half The Time” and “Baby Face” are instant classics. The former echoes the smooth rock ‘n roll of the Rolling Stones, whose music would be played in every VW van during an unforgettable road trip. Rabenreither’s lyrics, too, are an adventure, but the journey is a personal one. His story is one of struggle and redemption, of unpredictability and resilience. As he repeats at the end, “I don’t know why”, we all empathize with the bumpy roads he’s traveled and the long, winding routes that have led to nowhere. The latter posses the flair of Paul McCartney during his Wings days. Rabenreither’s voice rings clear, hovering effortlessly over the cool rhythms, the tingling piano keys, and the warm guitar lines. His story is that of a no-name wanderer with no destination. An individual who teeters on the brink of finality yet somehow continues to move forward.
Similarly, “Dani’s In Love” is like the Rolling Stones reborn. It is an infectious rocker that should be on every end-of-summer playlist. While the rollicking melody is toe-tapping infectious, his lyrics about second chances are poster-worthy:
“Every night I say my prayers,
I know that every day will come true.
Baby, all your Gods and your ministers
Can say they know that
Nothing I wouldn’t do.”
Intimate and serene moments also fill Uppers & Downers, such as on the sombre title track. As the electric organ hums in the background, Rabenreither shares one man’s pursuit for happiness and meaning in his life. From spending a night with two women to consuming stimulants, the man is trying everything to “keep me from crying out my eyes”. The heart-breaking Ryan Adams-like ballad “Chinatown”, however, is the highlight. This isn’t a love song, but rather a final goodbye to someone dear. As the sombre notes of the guitar, steel guitar, and feathery rhythms burst, Rabenreither’s voice cracks as he sings:
“I’ll make you money if it’s making you happy,
And I’ll take away all of your suffering.
I want to leave all this behind me.
Let my love be your violent thing,
To stop all of your wandering.
To stop nearly everything.
I’ll be around.”
The piano-driven “This Is The Year” is Billy Joel reincarnated. It’s a feel-good anthem that has Rabenreither proclaiming he’s “trying to keep his head held high” despite the turbulence in his life. The search for hope is repeated on the slow-building and melodic rocker, “Does It Ever Get You Down”. While Rabenreither recounts his family members’ experiences and the unpaved roads they’ve traveled, he is simultaneously learning from their mistakes in order to not replicate them.
Adventure, though, is not relegated to emotional and introspective roller coasters. On the summery and charming “Get It Together (C’mon)”, Rabenreither returns to his storytelling ways, describing one woman’s lengthy journey to find happiness. However, she’s looking in all the wrong places and in the wrong people, inviting men into her bedroom for just one purpose. As the drums and keys bellow on this bright-eyed track, she finally proclaims she’s had enough and moving on. She’s heading out to find the things that have escaped her, and hopefully she’ll be playing Uppers & Downers as she heads into the sunset. An album worthy to be the soundtrack to any individual’s personal journey to redemption.
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