The Grey Agents – Last Generation

The Grey Agents – Last Generation


Last Generation is the twelve song second full length from West Virginia’s The Grey Agents, but has a very different sound than their first studio album Classified Misinformation. The band recruited talented sax player and singer Phil Wyatt to fill their vacant lead guitarist slot and the transformative effect he has on the band’s sound is significant and pushes the band’s songwriting to an inspired level. I love how they manage to capture the sound of influences like singer/songwriter Elvis Costello alongside the tense guitar jangle and compositional qualities of bands like REM, yet find a more soulful and brassy rock sound thanks to Wyatt’s addition. Strong drumming anchors the collection and the five man unit plays with great cohesion and chemistry alike. The band has aimed for these songs to, in important ways, reflect this moment in history, but they aren’t so much consumed with headlines – instead, the songwriting is full of intelligent reflection and personal observations. It’s flawed, passionate, and intensely human.  

“She’s Everything to Me” definitely hits a few familiar notes for anyone who’s a fan of retro-minded singer/songwriter rock, but it has fantastic energy and Brian Cottrill really belts this one out with entertaining, throat shredding passion. It’s a common theme for a “love” song, but there’s definitely a sense of the individual in the lyrics that gives the subject a fresh coat of paint. There’s some of the same feeling of familiarity in the song “The Underdog”, but there’s a very powerful chorus at the heart of the song that never pushes too hard or sounds false – The Grey Agents, particularly Cottrill, deliver well rounded and polished tracks each time out on Last Generation. The band describes Last Generation as an album reflective of uneasy times and there are more than a few songs on this album supporting this idea. “Can You Feel the Rain?”, penned by bassist John Farmer and Cotrill, has a biting guitar riff made just that much tougher by Wyatt’s sax and an aggressive arrangement powered ahead by Bob Workman’s great drumming.  

Wyatt’s first lead vocal on the album comes with “This Train”, a tune recalling a great many older spirituals and borrowing freely from their imagery, that’s once again highlighted by a killer drumming performance from Workman. He gets his first turn with lead vocals on the album’s de facto title song “Last Generation on the Planet” and this near hard rock workout never achieves its ends by sacrificing the melody and instrumental subtleties in favor of pure muscle. Instead, the synthesis it achieves makes for an even more memorable performance. “The Celebration of the Stars” is sort of reminiscent of an electrified folk song, rocked up some, and has a number of gratifying changes that will hook listeners in deeper with its musical narrative. “What a Great Day” goes full on Americana with its use of banjo, accordion, and other touches. It likewise features the band’s four singers trading off lines with seamlessness that will leave you slightly in awe. “The Murder Farm (Hammer to the Head)” is a dark number, drawn from a true account, and brings some improbable musical bedfellows together for a composition that sounds like it emerged all at once rather than being stitched together from seemingly disparate strands. There are a lot of riches on The Grey Agents’ Last Generation and they sound like they have found their “voice” as an outfit at last.  

Michael Rand

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