New Orleans rock ’n’ roll band The Revivalists were ready when they went into the studio to record the new album “Men Amongst Mountains.”
They had so many songs that they needed a dry-erase board to keep lists of definites, strong maybes, long shots and so on. They started to cut down the list almost immediately. Many songs were left unfinished.
“One song that (singer) Dave (Shaw) had was a really good song, but we never even tracked it because it was too much in the same vein as ‘Fade Away’ (a song on the album), so we said, ‘Let’s save that for the next album,’ ” guitarist Zack Feinberg said.
The Revivalists will play the Varsity Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 3.
The band has toured regularly for more than five years, which has made them better. Feinberg hears it when he listens to “City of Sound,” the band’s previous album.
“I was a much younger person, and I lacked experience and confidence in a number of things,” he said. “Personally, I hear some things that I wish I would have owned more or did differently.”
For the last five years, The Revivalists have taken almost any gig they could get as they worked to build a following. Now, lead singer/guitarist David Shaw says they’re a bigger draw and can be a little more selective.
“We’re focusing more on bigger markets,” he said. “It’s just a smarter way to tour. And some of the smaller rooms can’t accommodate us anymore. We come in with our own monitor rig, and some of the smaller venues don’t have the things we need to be able to put on the show. And the demand is too many people.”
Half of the songs on “Men Amongst Mountains” have been in the band’s live repertoire, at least occasionally. According to Feinberg, working them in kept the set fresh for the band, and it helped the group understand the songs and what they needed. That process had downsides, though.
“Sometimes, right away can be even better than if you road test it,” he said. “If you’re just learning it and just playing it as a band for the first couple of times, you’re not relying on muscle memory. It’s more emotionally fresh for you.”
The songs on “Men Amongst Mountains” are all about passion. Shaw sings with an R&B singer’s rasp and urgency. The arrangements load the tracks with musical moments that renew the intensity and underscore Shaw’s emotions.
The band emerged as the jam band wave receded, and it shares an adherence to jam rock’s core values — blues roots, soul’s heat and pop’s immediacy. Unlike its contemporaries, The Revivalists’ songs are efficient, saying what needs to be said in five minutes or less.
One of the songs that hasn’t been part of the live show is “Need You,” which turns dramatically when Shaw turns the tables and asserts, “You need me!”
The reversal is emotionally naked, and it’s easy to imagine it being a line he had to try a number of times in the studio to get the emotion and intensity exactly right.
He says that’s not quite the way it happened. He did work to figure out how to sing the part, but that was before the band went into the studio.
“That take, the one you heard on the album, is one take full-through,” Shaw said. “The only thing we overdubbed on that track was the trumpet.”
All of the band’s songs have slowly, gently changed in ways that reflect the players’ growth as individuals and a band. It’s hardest for Shaw to change his parts because fans are often singing along. But it’s not impossible.
At one point in the song “Catching Fireflies,” he sings the phrase, “I don’t know myself.”
“I don’t like saying, ‘I don’t know myself,’ anymore because I feel like I do know myself,” Shaw said. “So I’m saying, ‘I didn’t know myself.’ It’s a small change, but I’m evolving as a person and the song needs to evolve with me.”