With the release of the fourteenth BoDeans album, 4 The Last Time, the Milwaukee-based band can rightly lay claim to acting as the bridge between alternative rock and Americana. The use of “Closer to Free” as the theme song to the hit TV series Party of Five helped consolidate the group’s initial fan following and, in the interim, has also fostered the longstanding independence of multi-instrumentalist Kurt Neumann who has fronted the band since the 2011 departure of co-founder Sammy Llanas.
At that point, the man had been playing most of the instruments on the group’s records for some time. It’s an approach he maintained on 2017’s Thirteen and he carries on with it here too, writing, recording, engineering, mixing, and producing the album (leaving only the mastering to Adam Ayan at Gateway). This podcaster who actually designs the guitars he plays proffers a combination of continuity and spontaneity on tracks such as the borderline grandiloquent opening “Loved.”
This is the first inkling of an anthemic air coursing through these performances, but it isn’t the last. And neither is the fluidity of musicianship and arrangement, readily apparent there as well as the album’s ten cuts total progress over the course of roughly thirty-seven minutes of playing time. There’s also a distinct sense Kurt Neumann’s speaking directly to the listener(s) during songs like “Don’t Be Long:” intimacy pervades this material and the performance thereof, whether spoken outright in the personal expression on “How To Say Goodbye” or as an overt invitation to dance like “Ya Gotta Go Crazy.” A more reflective composition titled “Pressure Queen” balances the earthy atmosphere on the latter cut and both tracks benefit from the contrast, in part due to the relative simplicity and lack of friction in the mesh of guitar and keyboard parts.
There’s an unmistakable humility in such songs and performances, too, no doubt rooted in Neumann’s long-term commitment to BoDeans. As suggested by “Come Along Way,” he’s endured his share of adversity and with no little equanimity either, so the mutual loyalty between him and his audience echoes as loudly through the group vocals there as on the self-effacing, partly tongue-in-cheek likes of ”I’m A Mess.” Meanwhile, his steadfast drumming calls to mind the many aphorisms about taking one step at a time; it’s emblematic of that special kind of patience that has allowed Kurt to continue fronting various lineups of personnel on tour for over a decade now.
Even if Kurt Neumann hardly composes anything profound in songs on such as “Anyone But You” or “How To Say Goodbye” on 4 The Last Time, he does know how to choose the most readily-identifiable moments in life to write about. And the consistent body of BoDeans’ work is all the more admirable when its mix of rock and folk motifs is as infectious as it is on “A Little More Time.” Hopefully, the title of this LP doesn’t prove prophetic.