The harmony-heavy vocals and full-band arrangements of these folky tunes scream Fleet Foxes, America and Crosby, Stills & Nash. But I like U.S. Royalty more than all of those, because their harmonies retain a vitality and directness that cut through kitsch and get to the heart of the feeling. It also helps that they have a propensity to throw down gritty Southern-rock guitar solos on top of their folk tunes.
All those things come together in “Equestrian.” There’s a “whoa-oh-oh” vocal line that will stick with you. Guitars crash in everywhere. Toms rumble. The whole thing has a spacious vibe that calls to mind driving through the Midwest. “I’ve slept in hills of wheat and pine,” John Thornley solemnly intones, and I believe it. Even if he hadn’t said it, the whole song sounds like it. It’s wonderful.
“Vacation Vacation” is another standout example of the best U.S. Royalty elements: the affected/disaffected vocal conflict of Wild Light, the songwriting reverie of Holy Fiction and the warm guitar crunch of Drive-By Truckers. The calmer “Old Flames” completes the trifecta and shows that they’re not ripping anyone off; they’re just saying what they want to say.
There’s some just-under-the-surface classic-rock love in their folksy amalgam: “Hollywood Hollows” sounds like an American version of the Fab Four’s “Come Together,” complete with similar percussion sounds. “Fool to Love (Like I Do)” nabs a sitar and vocal rhythms of The Who. They mesh these elements in well, but the songs with stronger rock presence and weaker folk presence don’t strike the ear as affectingly as vice versa.
Move over, Fleet Foxes. If you like the folk revival that’s happening, U.S. Royalty is the next thing that’s happening there. They have a lot of room to grow into their sound, but “Mirrors
” has some gems on it. —Stephen Carradini