Dustbowl Revival has always been about pushing the boundaries of what American roots music can be. After celebrating over a decade of sonic adventuring and playing thousands of shows together in ten countries and counting, the group collected a devoted fanbase coast-to-coast. After throwing five of their own virtual Sway-At-Home festivals during the shut-down featuring nearly forty artists, the always evolving group of string and brass players led by founding members Z. Lupetin, Josh Heffernan, Ulf Bjorlin are excited to welcome a new wave of talent to the band, after emerging from a pandemic touring hiatus.
After spending years on the road, selling out hometown shows at LA’s famed Troubadour, headlining festivals and wowing crowds from Denmark to China, Dustbowl Revival never stopped making their joyful, booty-shaking soul songs and cut-to-heart folk-rock ballads that lift up their transcendent live shows.
Even so, with the bands emotional new single “Beside You” and 2020’s ambitious full length Is It You, Is It Me, they wanted to strike into new terrain. As they mined new energetic material from the place where folk and funk music meet, they teamed up with producer Sam Kassirer (Lake Street Dive, Josh Ritter) and engineer Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens). The latest album strikes a more personal note than ever before, representing the latest stage in a band that never stops exploring new sounds.
Many of the songs feel like small theater pieces coming to life verse by verse. It’s the yin-yang conversational harmony that is the true specialty of lead songwriter and singer Z. Lupetin, who also doubles as a playwright and recently wrote the music for a Greek tragedy set in Gold Rush era California. While longtime co-lead Liz Beebe has stepped away from the band after a long run, an amazing young talent in Lashon Halley has stepped in to bring new life to the songs, matching Lupetin’s intense vocal range with her own.
With a big brass-and-strings band building around the voices, Is It You, Is It Me isn’t afraid to explore the personal and political tension that the group may have shied away from facing before. The album tackles uneasy topics, often where the political feels personal, especially in the defiant “Get Rid of You,” which was inspired by the student activists who emerged from the tragic Parkland High School shooting in Florida. The ominous driving brass groove of “Enemy,” hones in on a painful generational split between a daughter and her parents who may have voted in a tyrant, and have become strangers to her. This yearning search for common ground pervades the record as a whole.
Where the band really sets on a new course is on lushly cinematic, orchestrated set pieces like “Mirror,” “Runaway” and, most notably, the current fan favorite and live showstopper “Sonic Boom,” about the struggle to reveal who you really are in the hidden, rose-colored world of social media. There’s a new widescreen expansiveness to these songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a packed arena or orchestra hall with a full neon light show. Acting like a nimble rock orchestra, during the recording process, each member played multiple instruments, and the group brought in new musicians on symphonic brass, and local friends to sing as a spur-of-the-moment choir.