On 2011's No One Listens to the Band Anymore, Damnwells founder and principal songwriter Alex Dezen seemed to have finally mastered the art of making a record that captured the sound, spirit, and attitude of his band without having most of his bandmates around; Dezen and bassist Ted Hudson were joined by a gang of guest musicians who gave the album plenty of texture and personality despite the absence of half of the original Damnwells lineup. Having demonstrated that he can effectively go it alone, Dezen has taken the opposite approach for the Damnwells' self-titled fifth album, which reunites the group's original lineup -- Dezen on vocals and guitar, Hudson on bass, David Chernis on guitar and lap steel, and Steven Terry on drums -- for the first time since 2006's Air Stereo. As one might expect, The Damnwells sounds more like a group album than No One Listens to the Band Anymore, as good as that album was, because it puts the emphasis squarely on the songs (written by Dezen in collaboration with the group) and the band's crisp, heartfelt musical interplay; none of these musicians sound like virtuosos in this context, but they clearly know how to work together, and they create an energy when they come together that Dezen couldn't quite conjure with the pickers on his previous album. There's a lean, streamlined attack on The Damnwells that's satisfying even when producer Salim Nourallah dresses up the tracks with horns and keyboards, and if most of these songs deal with guys who are struggling to get past emotional adolescence while fumbling with the nuts and bolts of grown-up lives, Dezen gets the details right, and can make his characters sympathetic without letting them off the hook for their failings. (And "Too Old to Die Young" is a witty but dead-on editorial on the problem with not being able to give up the trappings of youth.) The Damnwells sounds like it was self-titled for an excellent reason -- without sounding like it struggles to recapture past glories, this album is a potent reminder of the virtues this band had from the start, seasoned with the experiences of almost 15 years, and it's a welcome and satisfying return to form.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming