The Elms: Chess Hotel Review: Band Echoes Petty, Crowes, Stones and Strokes

It’s equal parts Tom Petty and Black Crowes. It’s a slice of Rolling Stones with a pinch of The Strokes. Then again, it’s something all its own. On their latest release, The Elms have tapped into the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll in a way that very few bands are able to do.

These aren’t The Elms as you remember them. After some minor successes with “Speaking in Tongues” and other songs, The Elms had a fallout, so to speak, with the Christian music industry. The music they were wanting to make wasn’t going to be at home on Christian radio. It was only a matter of time before separation would be the answer.

Enter Universal South. The label is largely known as a country/alt-country label with an artist roster boasting Shooter Jennings (Waylon’s son) and Cross Canadian Ragweed. But the label wanted to boost its rock cred and build in a new direction. They gave The Elms the freedom they need and the results are rocking, literally, all the way through.

The Chess Hotel is not what you will expect. The Elms have never hit this level or really anywhere close. Then again, they have never even reached for this level before. Being free from the confines of Christian rock and the constraints it brings, The Elms are now able to spread their proverbial wings and fully embrace their influences. Tinges of classic rock are found throughout while more modern middle American rockers are also present.

“Nothin’ To Do With Love” is the lead single and perfect example of this. With an fist-pumping chorus, it begs for an arena full of fans to sing along. Hotel’s opener “I Am The World” features a total rock groove that sonically kicks the speakers. “Makes Good Sense” brings things down a notch and is one of the best tracks on the album.

Frontman Owen Thomas sings with vocals that are perfect for both the all-out rock tunes and balladry as well. On other songs like “She’s Cold” and “Who Puts Rock & Roll In Your Blood?” guitarist Thom Daugherty showcases amazing riffs and his keen rock sense. Harmonies are found throughout The Chess Hotel and are perfectly placed.

If there is a downside to be found here, it’s only in the fact that the album clocks in at forty minutes, despite thirteen tracks. But within that time frame, a band hasn’t had this much fun creating rock ‘n’ roll in a long time. And the same can be said for the listener.

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