Album cover with a man standing holding a guitar.

Local Review: Gary Dranow and The Manic Emotions – Never Give Up

Local Music Reviews

Gary Dranow and The Manic Emotions
Never Give Up
Street: 03.29
Gary Dranow and The Manic Emotions = Hootie & The Blowfish – LA Guns x Jimmy Buffett

Yacht rock, blue-eyed soul, calypso, vintage Americana folk, slacker jazz—whatever way you spin it, the aesthetic is one and the same. Music like this fosters a carefree, laxed attitude to the harshness of reality. Obviously, music is a passageway to fulfill our escapist needs, but practicing what it preaches can take a naïve and misguided turn. A Parrot Head will live ignorant to the world’s problems the same way black metal fans may torch their local Catholic church, all in the name of Varg Vikernes… Okay, maybe not that drastic. What I’m trying to say is that this inner-circle of slow rock styles are tailor-made for those who can afford the luxury to physically escape, but hey, I’ve been proven wrong before. So when I got the tip about a new release from Park City-bound light blues band Gary Dranow and The Manic Emotions, how could we push it off any longer?

Never Give Up fits on the lower end of the FM radio spectrum, where Christian rock resides. Its bluegrass-y, barn-find throttle muddies together many rock variants and speeds in each track. There’s pure elements of bourbon-soaked thumps inspired by ZZ Top, accompanied by light-note Zac Brown Band strums. As folksy as it’s trying to be, this album could supply great background soundtracks for shows like Yellowstone or Heartland. Rooted in country while picking and choosing from the rock collection, does Never Give Up have the substance to deliver quality songwriting? Possibly.

Slow-bender tracks like “Bodywise” and title track “Never Give Up” drag homegrown stylings. It’s the classic open-field guitar slide and merely high tops and snares for drums that made Hootie & The Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be With You” a catchy bop. “Never Give Up” is an off-brand motivational anthem about overcoming the obstacles in life, where the extended reach of the lyricism is just vague, going-the-distance messages. “The road stretches for miles and miles / And there’s no end in sight / You know it will be forever a struggle / Don’t shy away from the fight.” Then Dranow throws in “Bodywise” as a half-hearted attempt at body positive advocacy. Although I appreciate the encouragement to solve social issues through songs, they’re just coming across as white bread—basic, stale, not even a sliver of butter could spice things up. It just sounds and feels like an inoffensive filler to kill time, kind of like Death Cab For Cutie’s performance at Kilby Block Party.

By far, the best track on the whole EP has to be “Ripping.” Heavily inspired by hair rock bands of the ‘80s like Van Halen, Dranow becomes more loosey-goosey, letting the music breathe some type of life. The chords are fatty and fast-paced, as percussions are thrashed to hell, giving this project a more weighted imprint on the lineup. It’s almost the clear definition of “yacht rock,” with a quick zest of billiard room brawls and backroad racing. At this point in the album, we needed something more reckless and buttoned-down to actually chew on, even if the instrumentals sound slightly reminiscent of a premade GarageBand loop.

Never Give Up is an album… that’s it. Trust me, I really wanted this to be more engaging than your run-of-the-mill Americana album, but each track is internally hollow, portraying itself as having bigger messages than it’s actually giving us. It’s the type of sound for sipping Miller High Life on Bear Lake or practicing your drive at the country club. And with two more volumes to this EP already out, I don’t want to continue onwards. This isn’t a jab at Dranow’s talent, because it’s not easy being a musician on top of being a motocross champion, horseback rider, entrepreneur, mortgage broker, ski race instructor and academy founder (Good Jesus!). I get the feeling that for Dranow, singing and songwriting may be less of a passion and more of a checkbox. –Alton Barnhart

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