Originally published in Verbicide issue #4
Victory Records have long held claim to being a predominant force in the hardcore scene, but with an act like the River City Rebels in their catalogue, they are on course to break new ground. The Rebels are a throwback to punk’s roots, embodying all that I love about punk rock, and their sophomore release Playing to Live, Living to Play is without a doubt the album that is going to be their breakthrough. Though their first CD, Racism, Religion, and War… was a mildly impressive debut, it lacked identity outside the fact that it featured the Rebels trademark two-piece horn section. However, a retooled lineup including a new vocalist, guitarist, and horn section combined with improved songwriting and expanded influences have allowed the Rebels to take a classic sound and build immensely upon it. Gone are the days when fanzines will take one listen and dub them “Rancid with horns.”
Perhaps the most impressive change from the last album are the lyrics. While Racism, Religion, and War… has its merits for aggressively attacking social issues, this album tends to be much more personal, which gives identity and personality to a bunch of kids that most people would otherwise know nothing about. Songs such as “22 Years,” “What’s in a Dream,” and “6 a.m.” discuss the choices, risks, and frustrations of being torn between following your dreams and earning a paycheck, but encourage living for the day rather than delving into overt pessimism. Being from Vermont myself (the state where the Rebels formed in ’97), my favorite song is track four, “Small Town Pride,” which includes the sing-along lyrics “born and raised in the country/obsolete from the city/…from the heart, from the soul/small town pride is all I know.” Excuse me if I sound a bit partial towards these fellow New England boys, but this is one of the best punk albums of the year, if not the best.
(Victory Records, 346 North Justine Street, Suite 504, Chicago, IL 60607)