Album Review: Love & Theft Hit the Mark with ‘Whiskey on My Breath’

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“Let the world stop and stare,” pop-country duo Love & Theft sing on “Anytime, Anywhere,” lifted from their first post-Sony Nashville record. Independently released, Whiskey on My Breath sees Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson make a refreshing return to their more traditional-leaning, harmonious and soaring soulful ways. And yes, all eyes are on them, as they navigate the contemporary landscape without the guidance of a major label. The duo are surprisingly more fine-tuned, more authentic and far more honest here. The stunning 11-track record is stripped of the mass-produced Music Row understanding, in favor of more vulnerability—rooted in musical depth unlike anything they’ve ever released. Anchored by the harrowing title track (their best and most powerful single of their career), the album showcases a wide-stretching diversity, sweeping from the Beatles-inspired plucky opener “Can’t Wait for the Weekend” and later the island escape “Tan Lines” (a rather charming take on the typical bro-country flair) and then closing with the piano-tailored, harmonica-laden “Let’s Get Drunk and Make Friends.”

There’s something unfettered about the way in which they sing about love, loss, romance and letting the good times roll. “Hang Out Hungover,” “Easy” and “Can’t Stop Smiling” are breezy, a template of airy confidence that’s been loudly missing from their previous singles; even last year’s “Night You’ll Never Forget” seemed forced and unnatural. Now, they don’t chase trends; they set them. Much like their breakout smash “Angel Eyes,” Whiskey‘s smoothness is a clever reminder that Love & Theft are a force to be reckoned with.

“Everybody Drives Drunk” is a compelling tale about forlorn love, utilizing alcohol as a medium to ease the pain. It’s a common theme throughout country music history, and despite 2015’s model of binge-drinking for the sake of binge-drinking, Love & Theft’s pain is too palpable for it to not become an resourceful trigger. Polished guitar pins the story together, as Liles and Gunderson contemplate what it all means and how they can move forward. By the end of the three minutes, it’s unsure if 3 a.m. is the solution or just another question.Taking the lead from Martina McBride‘s own version of the jazz-fused “Wrong Baby Wrong,” Love & Theft interpret the slinky mid-tempo with a sharp-shooting determination. They inject the arrangement with a robust musicality, as if the song has never seen the light of day. The entirety of Whiskey authoritative and risky, blending pop, country, rock and soul into a delicious and satisfying journey. From beginning to end, Love & Theft have tapped into their sweet spot of jarring and emotional reality, but they don’t skimp on the lively and pleasant aspects of the human experience.

Must-Listen Tracks: “Whiskey on My Breath,” “Wrong Baby Wrong,” “Everybody Drives Drunk”

Grade: 4/5

Image Source: CMA, PR Photos