Charlotte rock sextet Temperance League introduces its second full-length "Rock and Roll Dreams" with stripped down piano and the lines "Don't wanna hang up my rock and roll dreams" before a big ballad about aging in the indie music business kicks in. It ends three minutes later with the refrain "Don't wanna hang up my rock and roll dreams/As foolish as it seems..." That sums up Temperance League. Band members like frontman Bruce Hazel, guitarist Shawn Lynch, and newest member Jay Garrigan have been chasing those dreams for decades. It’s not that what they did separately wasn’t good, but with drummer David Kim (another busy local music veteran), guitarist Chad Wilson, and bassist Eric Scott, they've found that something extra. Call it chemistry, camaraderie, whatever. Temperance League seems to share a common goal whether it’s in classic songwriting and arranging or its willingness to play live often and the simple joy that oozes from the band when it’s doing so.
But just when I think I’ve got Temperance League figured out, they throw out something different without ever losing focus of who the band. Every time they change it up a bit, I lament quietly how much I liked what came before. But then the new stuff grows on me. On its first few seven inch singles it was a political and punky garage rock outfit spewing lyrics about job loss, the poor economy, and working class hope. On 2012’s self-titled full-length its love of vintage pop and `60s rock took center stage. The tempos were a little slower. The lyrics were more relationship-oriented. You could imagine a `60s girl group covering “I Don’t Wanna,” for instance. While its psychedelic pop companion piece “But I Have Have To” was fit to score a party scene from “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”
“Rock and Roll Dreams” is a suitable follow-up to “Temperance League,” but it’s also the next step in the band’s evolution. If the first full-length was its `60s throwback, “Rock and Roll Dreams” is its `70s follow-up that finds the band self-examining its motives for keeping on. Honestly whenever I turn on Little Steven's Underground Garage and hear great new groups like the Bayonets, I wonder why the heck Temperance League isn't in regular rotation (they have received some play in the past). I'd put up most any of the songs on this new album against what I hear on Sirius/XM.
It’s hard to pick favorites. “Are You Ready?” finds Hazel possessed by a rock n’ roll preacher over stomping garage blues. It’s an about face from the title track with similar lyrical intentions - to rock. I tend to favor the heavier ones, but the catchy melodies and choruses of “Too Much Time,” “The Hunger,” “Are You Still With Me?,” and “Don’t Say Goodbye” are almost immediately memorable. The closer “Everybody Dreams” (wrapping up that whole theme) finds Hazel in full crooner mode while the band sounds like it would be just as at home backing up the Ronettes (you know, the Ramones sounded like that sometimes too).
Many of the songs on “Rock and Roll Dreams” should be familiar to Temperance League’s audience, which includes the pretty massive one it played for opening for Bob Seger at Time Warner Cable Arena in April. Temperance League is a live band. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make good records though. For “Rock and Roll Dreams” the group again ventured to Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium Recordings in Kernersville. Easter's band Let's Active was a big part of the jangle pop sound of the `80s (as were some of the groups he produced). That guitar sound and oohs and ahhs is part of the Temperance League sound along with Hazel revealing more of that gravely-voiced inner Springsteen, Lynch’s British invasion guitar licks, and references to the aforementioned classic pop and rock of the `50s, `60s, and `70s. That's what Temperance League does - makes something classic with what's driving them written heart-on-sleeve within the lines of its songs. Maybe that's why it works - because those legendary artists that TL is following were making music for much the same reasons. That's why many of them - like Temperance League - are still chasing those rock and roll dreams.
Temperance League celebrates the release of its new album “Rock n’ Roll Dreams” Friday at Snug Harbor with the Sammies and Pullman Strike. Admission is free. The record is available on vinyl and via digital download here.