Underground Sound

Let’s address the elephant in the room — or rather, the one not in the room — straight away: There’s been a Seth James-shaped hole in the heart of the Departed since his departing last year, and HippieLovePunk, the band’s third album and first without James sharing the wheel as co-frontman with Cody Canada, is a very different beast than the two that came before it. The potent combo of Canada’s distinctive flinty, nasal snarl and James’ soulful rumble — not to mention their equally distinctive guitar styles — gave the Departed a jagged yet walloping dynamic unlike any other band on the Texas/Red Dirt scene. But Canada is nothing if not a scrappy survivor, and all those years he spent at the helm of Cross Canadian Ragweed proved he was always more than capable of commanding a spotlight on his own. Of course it helps that he’s still got a solid rhythm section backing him up (fellow Ragweed vet Jeremy Plato on bass and Chris Doege on drums), and an abundance of pile-driving rockers like “Comin’ to Me,” “Inbetweener,” “Revolution” and “Boss of Me” that swagger with a convincing sense of no-looking-back confidence. But with James gone, now more than ever it’s the lively piano and organ playing of Steve Littleton that really proves the X-factor in keeping the Departed sounding like an entity unto itself instead of just Ragweed 2.0. Without him, HippieLovePunk would be all rock and no roll, and a band continuing to evolve and find itself like this one is has gotta have wheels. — RICHARD SKANSE

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