It's hard to sound nervous and soulful at the same time, but White Denim manage that remarkable accomplishment on their sixth album, 2016's Stiff. The edgy energy that's long been the band's trademark is present in abundance here, which is welcome news since Stiff debuts a new White Denim lineup. On Stiff, singer and guitarist James Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki are joined by new guitarist Jonathan Horne and drummer Jeffrey Olson. The new combination has much of the same combustible bounce that's been White Denim's hallmark, but they're just as agile with the plentiful R&B grooves on this set. Petralli's vocals often take on a bluesy sway and a soulful growl, while the guitar crosstalk between Petralli and Horne gives the tunes a pleasing jammy swagger. Terebecki and Olson are one powerful rhythm section on Stiff, sounding familiar and effective on tough rock & roll stutter-steps as well as looser R&B grooves. And producer Ethan Johns gives this material a welcome sense of color and shade while letting the band shine through clear and direct. Stiff is admirably short on gingerbread, and puts its focus squarely on the interplay between the four musicians. The tone here is frequently playful, especially when Petralli lets his blue-eyed soul accents come forth. But the attack is taut and the force of this music is no joke. White Denim sound as strong as ever on Stiff, even when the itchy undertone of the songs begins to rise to the surface. And who knows, the whole feeling-good-and-getting-down thing might catch on with White Denim if Stiff is any indication.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming