In the three years since Love and Theft released their debut album, World Wide Open in 2009, the group has undergone some major changes. The biggest shifts involved the closing of their label and the departure of member Brian Bandas, leaving fellow founding members Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson searching for a new deal in order to move forward. Now, with their biggest hit currently at country radio and a new label home at RCA, Stephen and Eric are releasing their self-titled album on July 24; a collection of 11 harmony-driven songs that reintroduces the duo to fans.
A self-titled album, at face value, is a statement about identity. Working with producer Josh Leo (Alabama, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Stephen and Eric drive this home with a clear message about who they are and what they’re about. On their sophomore album, Love and Theft capitalizes on sparkling harmonies, high tempo and sonic depth achieved through their live recording process.
The lead single “Angel Eyes,” currently Top 10 at radio, embodies these elements with a simple, hummable melody and Eagles-esque harmonies. Loose acoustic/electric guitars and a deep rhythm section support the track, allowing it to breathe, while the fat-trimmed arrangement maintains its radio friendly core. Songs like “Inside Out,” featuring heartland guitars and some suggestive visuals further draws this out, while Eric sings of the bond he has with his lady in a laid-back, smoky drawl, Cover band playing Lyle Lovett and you and me the only ones singing along. It’s as if they took the power pop foundation of previous hits like 2009’s “Runaway,” but added a little bit of Mellencamp to open it up. It works for them here as Love and Theft come off at points sounding like a more contemporary country version of Foster Lloyd.
Taking chances in several spots, Stephen and Eric have some surprises up their sleeves. “Runnin’ Out of Air” is a refreshing blast drawing on a vast array of influences from blues and funk as the guys show off a talent for smooth vocal flows through tough rhythmic transitions. The song is a dynamic showcase with a back and forth echoed in its chorus, Girl, I’m gonna run right to you / Then I’m gonna run away. On “Thinking of You (And Me),” sentimental piano introduces the feelings developing within a guy-girl friendship. Full of revolving vocal patterns and floating electric guitars, the song stays just this side of complicated while the drama builds. And on “Amen,” meticulously crafted instrumental repetition including hand claps and guitar fills give life to an easygoing love song.
The vocal chemistry between Stephen and Eric is front and center. Sometimes it’s pronounced, like in the bright, layered chorus of the power ballad “If You Ever Get Lonely.” At other times, it can be subtle, like through the gritty and endearing story of friendship, “Town Drunk.” However, the natural and often complex harmonies are a focal point in the duo’s sound.
Love and Theft delivers a statement on what they’re about and where they’re headed. Rooted in a pop/crossover sound, there’s a natural feel to the collection as they build off their previous work. Even songs like the mirror image party tunes “Girls Love to Shake It” and “Girls Look Hot in Trucks” further develop their sound. It’s an exciting step for Stephen and Eric, and one that shows them finding their voice on a refreshed and rejuvenated album.
Key Tracks – “Runnin’ Out of Air,” “Town Drunk,” “Amen,” “Angel Eyes”