The Riverboat Gamblers' attempts to polish up their style and refine their manic assault on 2009's Underneath the Owl was something of a misfire, but they've clearly learned from their mistakes, and though The Wolf You Feed doesn't return them to the ragged glory of 2003's Something to Crow About, it successfully does what its immediate predecessor did not -- it redefines the Gamblers' sound in a less aggressive and more subtle direction without robbing the music of its soul or its guts. The Wolf You Feed is a few notches slower than the Gamblers' best work, and guitarists Ian MacDougall and Fadi El-Assad have traded punk rock downstroke for a more straightforward and muscular hard rock approach, but the attack is still direct and aimed at the heart, and the band has the good sense to write songs that are well-suited to their new approach. Melodically, there's plenty of cocky swagger here, but a darker and moodier undercurrent runs through the tunes, recalling a less-mannered version of the early Afghan Whigs, and the menace of "Comedians," "Gallows Bird," and "Dead Eyes" shows the Gamblers have found a strength in their new material that runs parallel to the fury of their younger incarnation. And vocalist Mike Wiebe has learned to enunciate and add emotional color to his performances while still sounding like he has enough attitude to power a good-sized city; saying he's matured probably gives the wrong impression, so let's say he's moved from a welterweight to a cruiserweight and the impact is obvious. And "Bite My Tongue" and "Soliloquy" are on deck to remind longtime fans the Riverboat Gamblers still know plenty about punk rock and have the means to kick it out on command. Great punk bands often have a hard time finding new ways to make themselves understood on plastic, but after a brief stumble, the Riverboat Gamblers have shown they can evolve without losing the plot, and if The Wolf You Feed isn't their best album, it's smart, ambitious, and rocks with authority, sounding fresh and exciting in ways you might not have expected.
The Wolf You Feed Review
by Mark Deming