Frontman James Ford’s emphatic declaration that “Everybody’s got their story” on “Songs About You”, the opening track on Them Dirty Roses’ Trouble, underlines a subtle sentiment woven throughout the Southern rock band’s sophomore EP: not only does everyone have a story, but those stories are worth telling and hearing. At its core, Trouble is about people owning their own truths, flaws, and circumstances; it’s about living, loving, surviving, and thriving in a world where differences are acknowledged and embraced, yet grounded in common humanity. Listeners don’t solely gravitate to songs that directly represent their own experiences, but they take comfort in the secrets and struggles related through the tales of others. On Trouble longtime and new fans can appreciate the band’s alternately explosive and reflective sound.
The tale of Them Dirty Roses dates back to the friendships brothers James and Frank Ford (drums) formed with Ben Crain (bass) and Andrew Davis (lead guitar) during their childhood and adolescence. The Alabama-born, Nashville-based quartet grew up on rock and classic country (influences noted on Trouble via a nod to Little Richard on the insanely catchy “Molly” and lap steel on the anthemic “Grew Up in the Country”). Stints in other bands eventually led to the formation of Them Dirty Roses, and the band’s 2014 self-titled EP was well-received. The group has continued to win over its audience show by show, song by song.
The compositions on the new EP should clearly translate well to live performances, with some songs practically demanding audience participation. While Them Dirty Roses is still developing artistically, Trouble is defined by frank lyrics, gritty guitars, and robust choruses. The group’s plainspoken approach to songwriting works in its favor as its members seem aware that there is emotional resonance in simplicity.
“Songs About You” specifically takes aim at songs that focus on the superficial. There’s nothing wrong with a little fantasy, but, as Ford sings, music should also acknowledge “all the things no one sees.” Ultimately, “Songs About You” is about inclusiveness, an affirmation that everyone (and every respective story), regardless of background or geographic location, is important.
Those types of stories are recognized in the evocative “Back Home” and the witty title track, penned by Zach Logan. Both songs feature narrators coping with adversity, the former with heavy-hearted realization, the latter with matter-of-fact humor. One seeks solace in a familiar environment while the other finds pleasure in the bottle. What separates “Trouble” from other songs about partying is the self-awareness of its protagonist, who openly references the consequences of his actions.
While the aforementioned songs are among the album’s highlights, Them Dirty Roses might save the best overall vocal performances on the record for last. “Head On”, a duet with powerhouse country singer Kirstie Lovelady that previously appeared on her Weeds EP, is based on hardships both acts encountered in the music industry. The interplay between Ford and Lovelady sets up a kind of musical showdown, with neither party daring to blink. Both singers display amazing vocal control that showcases their forceful presence, just as Trouble is an EP that showcases the band’s intense promise.