Unless you’re a Britpop icon (see Oasis’ The Masterplan) or a prolific singer/songwriter (see Ryan Adam’s Prisoner B-Sides, or any of the singles he releases between albums—more on him later), most B-side/outtake albums are viewed as filler, littered with throwaways amongst a gem or two. Fortunately, Romantica’s Outlaws gives a completely different perspective on an “outtake” album; rather than a random compilation of songs, they give us insight on the arduous journey frontman Ben Kyle has endured over the past 3 years.
The album is comprised of “outlawed” songs from previous efforts (the unreleased God and Love and War and 2017’s Shadowlands), covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and the Beatles’ “Something,” and a live cut of the “The Dark.” Along with Kyle, it features past members Luke Jacobs(guitar) and James Orvis(drums) as well as current members Tony Zaccardi (bass), Danger Dave Strahan (guitar), Ryan Lovan (percussion), and Aaron Fabbrini (pedal steel). The album also features longtime collaborators Jessy Greene, Eric Heywood, Carrie Rodriguez, Joe Savage, Alex Oana, Tom Herbers, and Brad Bivens.
Prior to Shadowlands, Kyle’s life was completely turned upside down as he battled Lyme disease, which forced him to step away from music and virtually crippled him. Kyle writes that he “felt completely exiled from normal life…[his] neuro-immune system was so sensitized [he] couldn’t walk into any building that didn’t have pristine air quality without [his head] going completely blank” (you can read his entire letter here).
As you might expect, a few of these songs seem to address his struggle with Lyme disease. In “Lost in the Cosmos” and “Hold It Together,” Kyle questions religion and his purpose in life, while “Listen To Your Soul” shows Kyle at his most introspective, finding peace and acceptance in letting go. Their take on “Hallelujah” is also a welcome surprise. Kyle could’ve easily played it safe with just his voice and a guitar a la Jeff Buckley. Instead, it’s a full band affair that surges toward the chorus. The album closes with “The Dark,” a live cut featuring Ryan Adams. It’s a fitting end to the album—Romantica’s alt-country soul definitely lends itself to Adams’ early work with Whiskeytown. It’s also somewhat of an ironic (and perhaps intentional) choice, as this was recorded after Adams was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, which halted his career for some time.
Given the subject matter, it would be easy for this album to fall victim to being overly tragic, but Kyle’s smooth croon and the lush instrumentation—often highlighted by Aaron Fabbrini’s weeping pedal steel—give it the necessary warmth to keep the mood from dragging. If Shadowlands was heralded as a comeback album for Romantica, Outlaws confirms that it was no fluke. Get your copy here. http://www.romanticamusic.com/