Miles in Blue, the latest album by Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, features a mature thoughtfulness that lends itself to introspective reflection. Not that the band has not shown their thoughtful side before, there is much in their catalog that would impart those feelings, but on Miles in Blue, they seemed especially mindful of the world around them and their changing place in it and have crafted an album that is pure, honest songwriting.
With five songwriters in the band, finding a balance that can always represent everyone’s point of view can be challenging. This issue was solved early on in the writing and recording process when the band took a few days off the road to whittle down the 18 tracks they had been working on. They quickly realized that they did not want to cut any of them and instead made the decision to just serve each song as needed. They created every song without any preconceived notions before entering the studio. This took the shape of shorter songs, less soloing, and more group parts, while at the same time staying true to the highly-combustible sound that Horseshoes & Hand Grenades have developed over the past decade.
For inspiration, the band looked to their first album when they felt they did not follow any rules or have any expectations of what they should do. Instead, they let each song develop naturally into what they felt it should be. This approach allowed the five distinct musical personalities in the band shine as the album took on an organic feel, much like one would experience from the band live.
The resulting album is an impassioned journey told in 18 songs. The opening line on the album from “Broke” sets the stage as banjo-picker Russell Pederson contemplates life on the road while wondering what a future at home might be as he sings, “Damned if I do, broke if I don’t.” At its core is a sentiment and dilemma we can all relate to, time spent working versus time spent at home with loved ones. Pederson decides it’s better to be fiscally broke as opposed to morally broke and urges us to savor every moment.
Miles in Blue gracefully unfolds from there, gently asking us to explore our own lives. The album covers the emotional gamut. There is introspective stuff and goofy stuff. Some songs are sad and some are about the road. There are mediations on life and children. They address personal problems, and sing about their favorite fishing holes. All narrated with a wisdom gained in life and experiences, both good and bad.
Most importantly there is a theme of losing that sense of being “invincible” that we lose as we age. The idea that when you are in your twenties you feel you can go anywhere and do anything, and then you grow up and realize your vulnerabilities. This sense of growing up is perfectly encapsulated in “Never Anew” when bassist Sam Odin reminds us, “You can’t go back to the way that it was,” with a lingering sense of melancholy hovering in the back of his throat. But even as the album provokes thought, there is also a feeling of optimistic hope that pervades Miles in Blue and that is what we need more than ever in these challenging times.