With just about a decade passing between Denton, Texas outfit the Baptist Generals' 2003 debut No Silver/No Gold and the illustrious follow-up Jackleg Devotional to the Heart, the expectations for some classic hard-fought masterpiece-type album are high. Generals main songwriter Chris Flemmons certainly felt that pressure to turn in something timeless, having spent a good amount of time between albums recording, scrapping, and re-recording different versions of what became this final product, as well as avoiding the process completely while obsessive fans made jokes about lost albums and prodded for details about how work on the record was coming along. With all the time passing, life goes on outside of the indie rock bubble, and the days that fans spent waiting resulted in what's indeed a fantastic album, and one fixated on the way time passes, the effect of an artist's audience on the art, and life's general state of constant flux. Clearer, brighter, and more direct than the band's early lo-fi output, Jackleg Devotional sounds more spiritual and sober, grounded in themes more long-term and searching than the often drunken folk meandering of the group's early days. Maintaining a roots rock backbone, Flemmons and company strike some holy middle ground between Crazy Horse and Neutral Milk Hotel on songs like "Oblivion" and "Dog That Bit You," exploring some serious existential ponderance without skimping on the guitar solos. The sounds are clear and deliberate, and have the type of hunger that only comes from a project marinating for many years. The Baptist Generals sound like they know it has to count. Luckily, amid all the high-stakes feelings, things never get too serious for their own good. More thoughtful than self-conscious, Flemmons speaks with brilliant awareness while still delivering hooky, well-crafted tunes. Poetic and sharp, he addresses his fans, his band, and the balance of life moving on while working on his masterpiece with the striking metaphor "How is it that people get proud?/I cannot get out of this public house where the soap gets stolen/Every single day's another day I get to smell myself/Gets in the way to have to smell myself." Somewhat psychedelic but totally lucid, the Baptist Generals' return to the public house is as strong as possible, but instead of buckling to the pressure of expectations and trying to please anyone but himself, Flemmons instead gives us a deeply personal, sometimes incomprehensible work of grainy beauty. Clearly hyper-detailed and considered with the utmost patience, the album still feels spontaneous and more than anything captures a stark honesty that makes every song glow. It's a brilliant return. Fans and newcomers alike will find songs that stay with them, and instill the hope that it's not another ten years before the next record.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas