Anybody Out There?
Dirty Mag/Thirty Tigers
Guitarist/singer-songwriter Sadler Vaden is best known as the lead guitarist for Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit, but fans will also recognize him for his time with Drivin’ N Cryin prior to joining Isbell’s band. Anybody Out There? Is his second full-length album, a follow-up to his 2016 self-titled debut. This is one of those feel good rock n’ roll records that recalls Vaden’s heroes like Tom Petty. George Harrison, Joe Walsh, Neil Young and some heavier power chords reminiscent of The Who and a groove, not unlike Nils Lofgren. Yes, the guitar aptly remains front and center, the driving force on many of these tunes. The opening Heartbreakers-like “Next to You” loudly announces immediately that this is a GUITAR record. Yet, it’s full of strong songs that are not all ear splitters. Listen to the George Harrison riffs that ignite the mid -tempo “Don’t Worry.”
Self-produced by Vaden, engineered by longtime collaborator (and multi-platinum producer) Paul Ebersold, and mastered by Grammy Award-winner Richard Dodd, Anybody Out There? is full of melody-driven songs that deal with the challenges of creating a true human connection in a modern, technology-obsessed world. Vaden employs two of his 400 Unit bandmates – bassist Jimbo Hart and keyboardist Derry deBorja (piano, Moog, electric piano) together with John Eldridge (Hammond B3) and Fred Eltringham (drums). “Good Man” features a different lineup and “Curtain Call” has a 4-piece string section. All songs were written by Vaden with Aaron Lee Tasjan co-writing “Peace + Harmony” and Audley Freed the title track, which mixes Eltringham’s thunderous drums with killer guitar riffs as Vaden’s potent vocals are boosted with highly effective echo effects.
As his wont, he takes a different tact on the following “Curtain Call” imbued by the strings and his imploring chorus. “Modern Times” is another melodic tune, this time featuring not only some power guitar but layers of vocals, swirling Mellotron, acoustic guitar, and claves. Echoes of George Harrison emerge again in Tasjan’s co-write, the rave-up “Peace + Harmony.”
“Good Man” is a simple, straightforward rock n’ roll tune, the kind that made us fall in love with the genre while “Be Here, Right Now” is a Petty-like tune that features some of Vaden’s best guitar work, with the accent on notes as much as chords, especially in the going out coda. As if that’s not enough axe wielding the album finishes with “Tried and True,” an anthemic nod to the genre, where one can easily envision the audience singing and swaying along with him, were he to perform it live. .
“It’s always been there for me, through the good and bad,” Sadler Vaden says of the rock & roll genre, whose uplift and epic punch first convinced him to pick up the guitar as a 10-year-old. He’s now one of the precious few that’s proudly carrying the torch of the music we grew up with in the last few decades of the previous millennium. Yet, he manages to keep it sounding fresh and not dated.
- Jim Hyne