Empty Hearts [Andy Babiuk, Wally Palmar, Clem Burke + Elliot Easton] – Empty Hearts (2014)

Rock and roll is alive and well, as heard on this new album by a group of musical mates that go by the moniker of Empty Hearts. While “supergroup” may be an apt description of the eponymous collaboration, it would be more appropriate to refer to the band a group of “super friends.”

A long time in the making, the Empty Hearts features practiced veterans of hit singles, power pop sensibilities and vintage aesthetics. The venerable band is made up of bassist/vocalist Andy Babiuk (the Chesterfield Kings), vocalist/guitarist Wally Palmar (the Romantics), drummer Clem Burke (Blondie) and guitarist/vocalist Elliot Easton (the Cars). The shared love of influences and bond between the musicians is felt in the quality of music expressed on the record. Classic gear, addictive songs and tasty strumming abounds on Empty Hearts — due August 5, 2014 via 429 Records.

The sweet scent of déjà vu pervades this album, like the reminiscence of a first love or the sound of a favorite LP. This isn’t nostalgia, however. It’s channeling. The group elicits the fat tube amp guitar licks that resonated from the dusty grooves of vintage 1960s singles and disappeared as lost riffs of rock, now injected with the current enthusiasm of the Empty Hearts’ principles. This is door-slamming power pop based around silvery guitars, unforgettable licks and classic harmonies.

Empty Hearts opens on a clattering drum fill and a punky high-speed introduction to the band with the song “90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street,” Layered harmonies, a big harp solo and syncopated verses combine to make this track a punchy introductory statement. “I Don’t Want Your Love (If You Don’t Want Me)” comes out with a grubby swing reminiscent of an early ’70s Faces track. Excitable off mic asides, full group vocals and some of the raunchiest guitar you can pull out of the swamp soak this track in a funky blues. Palmar’s sweet rock scat of the vocal melody pulls against the thick sludge of the rhythm section in fantastic fashion. This standout song is also the first single to be featured from the record.

“(I See) No Way Out” is a thick slab of mod rock bedazzled with a red, white and blue target, dizzying merry-go-round guitars and emphasized with cavernous rolling drums lines and an explosive central breakdown. The song looks over its shoulder at the imposing psychedelia that is creeping from its seams, before escaping back in to the open air of its crisp verses. The Empty Hearts explore its broader dynamics with the R&B-flavored “Fill An Empty Heart,” a shadowy garage ballad outlined by quivering guitars and smoky organs contributed by the Faces’ Ian McLagan.

“Soul Deep” follows and is a vivid sharp edged Polaroid of protopunk, a delicious melody exaggerated by kinky power chord riffing and tumbling drum kit explorations. In contrast, the next number “Loud and Clear” captures a detailed and twisted main guitar riff and is a slinky song with a more contemporary approach. “Perfect World” is a crunchy vamp developed around fuzzy bass and chiming Rickenbacker guitar chimes. The song bangs against walls through the verses before culminating with another mirror-ball rave up during its mid section. Classic goods here.

Illustrating the wealth of influence enjoyed by band the following “I Found You Again” blows a warm analog breeze across the soundscape with a light country vibe. The song reveals a cornered saloon piano plinking, in addition to a country guitar that squeezes the juice from the fruit. The aforementioned elements are only a few moments of notice for this melodically enticing track. Returning to the rock and roll attitude pervading Empty Hearts, the band punches back with the lament of “Just a Little Too Hard” and the Stones-y honk of “Drop Me Off At Home.” The latter track contains a sweet double-time soul breakdown, ideal for good-time ass shakin’ and chunky riffing.

The final two songs of the musically substantial LP are “Jealous” and the closing “Meet Me Round the Corner.” “Jealous” is a sensual strut supported by stabbing chords and heavy harp blasts, the song acting as a smoky prelude to the sweaty tribal thumping of the following “Meet Me.” The tom-tom heavy, Ray Charles-meets-Bo Diddley groove supports a staggering finale of harmonica blasts, lead guitar sweeps and improvised vocal additions. The band work their way into a tizzy before the song abruptly concludes an album that flies by in a flash of addictive riffs, impressive licks and explosive accents.

Ultimately, Empty Hearts more than lives up to any expectations fans or the principal members could have had for the recording. The joyous vibe experienced during the music’s creation, as well as the mutual respect felt inside the group, is exuded from the record’s twelve tracks. It’s solid and sturdy rock and roll that pays tribute to its influences without sounding trite. A plethora of experience, influence and respect combine to be translated through the expression of original, no frills, good-time tunes.

Stephen Lewis

A creative writing major at SUNY Brockport and freelance writer from Upstate New York, Stephen Lewis maintains a music-focused site called Talk From the Rock Room: thefrodisroomrockblog.blogspot.com. He has also written for UpstateLive Music Guide and Ultimate Classic Rock. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.