I first came across The Alternate Routes through their song “Ordinary”, which immediately blew me away and remained one of my favories for that year. I put it on a year-end mixtape (mixdisc?) and it was one of the songs that drew the most comments. And a group of old friends who have a band liked it so much they learned it and added it to their set list. I felt like I stumbled upon a hidden treasure.
Not counting self-released versions of Good And Reckless And True (their debut on Vanguard) and EPs, A Sucker’s Dream is just their second album, and the maturity in both songcraft and performance is already rock solid. Whether acoustic or electric, their material is consistently melodic, infectious and well structured. Lyrically, there are easily identifiable themes like overcoming adversity or coming to terms with yourself in the big picture, and they’re as effective with atmospheric mid-tempo songs like “November” and “Never Gonna Be Rich” as they are with flat-out rockers like (the ironically titled) “On And On We Whisper”. And although a guest spot by Patti Griffin is a nice coup, Tim Warren doesn’t need to take a backseat to anyone as a vocalist.
Guitar play between Eric Donnelly and Mike Sembos always fills the space in a cohesive and interesting manner, with Chip Johnson and studio drummer Giles Reeves able to support or propel as appropriate. A quick peek at their Wiki site makes it look like they go through drummers faster than Spinal Tap – Mike Stavitz is pounding the skins at the moment – but this is obviously a tight-knit crew who gel both onstage and on record.
I recently saw the band play as an opening act, and they totally won the crowd over by the third song. When I first hit the club, the band was in the process of getting the right levels on a toolbox (!) which is featured as a prominent percussion item on “The Future’s Nothing New”. Of course, that ate up their warm up time, so when they took the stage for real they introduced the rambunctious opening number “Toe The Line” as “a little song we call ‘Soundcheck’…” They played a tight, energetic set, were funny as hell and were sincerely appreciative of the crowd. They left town with a boatload of new converts, and I can’t imagine that’s not happening elsewhere.
Bands with a similar sound have clicked before. Maroon 5′ blew up with a combination of solid songwriting and Adam Levine’s vocals, but these songs are solid and Tim Warren is a better singer, more expressive yet without the stage antics. Do you miss Train or The Gin Blossoms? Well, if either band released something as consistent as A Sucker’s Dream they’d be buzzed about as thoroughly as they were in their heyday. These guys are one of rock’s best-kept secrets, and for their sake I hope that changes immediately.
Trust me on this one – The Alternate Routes are a very good band that’s still growing, and this album that will surface again when I’m making my year-end lists of best music.
The Alternate Routes on MySpace.
Video for “The Future’s Nothing New”
“All That I See”, live on World Cafe.
Fan video for “Ordinary” – the song that hooked me.