Album Review: White Denim, ‘Stiff’

By Andrew Howie

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Austin, TX-based quartet White Denim (James Petralli on vocals and guitar, Jeff Olson on drums, Steven Terebecki on vocals and bass, and Jonathan Horne on guitar) have established themselves as an eccentric blend of blues, jazz, indie, and soul for the past few years now. Their shifting time signatures, intricate lead guitar lines, occasional jazz flute, and strong vocals and rhythm section instantly hook listeners and before you know, a whole album has gone by. Their music has earned them fans all over the country and spots at major festivals such as Okeechobee and Lockn’, and their latest album, Stiff, really shows White Denim in their comfort zone. With a string of successful albums in their wake, they sound sure of themselves and their music, with acid-washed, sun-sparkling leads that dissolve into crunchy delta blues at the drop of a hat.

The album starts out strong, with in-your-face guitar and gruff, soulful vocals. This trend follows through the record, and the production this time around really makes this album get stuck in your head. There’s quite a bit more blues influence on this record than previous efforts, with “Real Deal Momma” showcasing Petralli’s vocals with a strong blues undertone and charging rhythm section, and more of the unusual phrasing aspects that keep White Denim so interesting. Spacy, reverb-loaded vocals echo over Zeppelin-esque drums and guitar in “Mirrored in Reverse”, while the Texas foursome also shows their pop sensibilities on the closing track “Thank You”, which wouldn’t be out of place in a sunny driving montage. The hazy “Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)” is almost reminiscent of Marvin Gaye, with lilting, delicate vocals over a soft R&B beat and shimmering guitars.

One thing I did notice about Stiff in contrast to other albums is that the music here tends to follow a bit more stable path; whereas previous records like D and Corsicana Lemonade would have wildly spastic song structures, the group is more patient here, really letting the songs evolve in their own time, leaving plenty of room for extended improve on the live stage.

White Denim did a great job with Stiff, managing to stick to their roots while incorporating new elements of 60s Britpop infused with southern jam influences. At only 35 minutes long (nine tracks total), it’s a great record for when you don’t have much time but still need to get your music fix in (I threw it on this morning to take the dogs for a walk). I’m going to be on the road a lot this summer, and this has definitely made it onto my list of albums in heavy rotation. The excellent mixture of bright 60s psychedelia, jangly indie bridges, and hard-hitting blues and jazz-fusion makes every song its own special work of art, and makes Stiff a current high point for White Denim. Be on the lookout for this band to be blowing up sometime very soon, and go check this album out! You’ll be glad you did.

Rating 9 out of 10