Sadler Vaden built his reputation over the past decade as one of the most versatile southern guitarists playing today, first putting in time with the raucous country punks in Drivin’ N Cryin’ before switching to Americana’s go-to sideman playing alongside Jason Isbell in his band the 400 Unit. In retrospect, his tenure with both groups clearly had an influence as this latest solo effort, Anybody Out There?. The album presents us with a sturdy bridge between Vaden’s varied styles of music, built on influences as diverse as they are celebrated, from Tom Petty to Oasis, T. Rex to George Harrison.
Four years after his solo debut, Vaden takes a big step forward, turning in a wildly eclectic album that segues seamlessly from big fat distortion-laden riffs (“Anybody Out There?”), to stripped down acoustic numbers (“Don’t Worry”) and Bowie-esque space jams (“Modern Times”), all while lathering in everything from power pop to Americana to fill in the spaces. That’s not to say that his 2016 debut wasn’t good – it was a great album that certainly offered solid promises of what was too come – and many of those promises are fulfilled by this stellar follow-up.
Vaden takes a lot of ques from obvious influences here, like the Tom Petty guitars on the album closer “Tried And True”, and manages to completely make them his own. Far from sounding like just another jukebox musician – folks that ape their heroes and come off sounding like glorified cover bands – Sadler puts his own original stamp on the crates of records and tapes he soaked in as a teenager.
Because the musical touchstones here are spread out across a couple of generations, there is also a remarkable timelessness to these songs that could have any one of them coming out from the early 1970s up to now. The opening track “Next to You,” for example, with its jangly opening chords, is classic rock as it should be. The same can be said for the infectious “Golden Child,” one of the best moments on an album filled with “best moments”. But far from being just another great guitar hero, Sadler also shows a knack for solid songwriting, best highlighted on some of his slower numbers like “Don’t Worry”.
Anybody Out There? may have been four years in the making, but it proves to be well worth the wait.