Is there a more underrated band in Maine than Worried Well, a.k.a. Daniel James and Cam Jones? There are plenty of really good songwriters in Maine, sure, but how many bands can offer up the triple threat of melody, energy and great lyrics that these guys do? Not many. I won’t name names. Let’s focus on Worried Well right now, who have released a great new album, “Great Appetite, Poor Taste,” recorded in Rumford and Portsmouth, NH, and produced by Dean Baltulonis and the band.
The band has progressed in an interesting and upward direction in its four years, from its acoustic-heavy early days, to the smart but occasionally dour 2013 album “Luck,” to this new album, which forgoes most of the slower, softer songs in favor of a fleet, mostly electrified, highly anthemic ten tracks. James and Jones sound confident and driven here, right at home in a rock milieu that blends James’ past life in Maine’s pop-punk scene with a literate, melodically advanced indie songwriting edge.
James has lots of strengths as a songwriter, but his lyrics are by far the strongest. Album opener “Two Parties” takes a broad look at the country as a whole, and is actually a good old fashioned political song — something you don’t really hear in rock music all that much these days — while by track eight we’re back in the 207, looking through the eyes of a depressed Mainer in the winter, on “Worst Winter.” James casts his arch, observant lyrical eye on his own demographic, the broke 20- and 30-something musicians and artists and never-gonna-grow-up denizens of downtowns and scenes all over the country, on “Moving Again,” which might be one of the saddest songs I’ve heard so far this year.
Though James’ songs would fit in snugly on a playlist featuring Ted Leo, Elvis Costello, The Clash and The Hold Steady, the stirring musical aesthetic of emo and pop-punk adds urgency and punch to many of these songs, like “Feel the Same” or “Randall Feeds the Crows,” which zip along thanks to fist-pumping choruses. “She Is a Gift” features a melody straight out of the 80s pop-rock playbook — think Crowded House or Tears for Fears. For a band that features, for the most part, only James’ guitar and vocals and Jones’ drumming, they manage to achieve a relatively full sound. It helps that Jones is an economical, sensitive drummer that knows when to steamroll forward and when to hang back, while James eschews heavy riffage in favor of nicely turned bits of guitar phrasing.
The album is top-loaded with the best songs, and thankfully the pair kept the album at a well-paced, just-right ten songs. Nevertheless, “Great Appetite, Poor Taste” sounds exactly like what I’d always hoped pop-punk bands would eventually mature into: retaining that inherent sense of crowd-pleasing melody and energy, while expanding out and growing in lots of other directions. Would that other musicians coming from that scene could do the same.
Worried Well will play a CD release party at 9:30 p.m. this Friday, July 24, with Tan Vampires and Weakened Friends at Empire in Portland; $6 advance/$8 door.