Frank Hopkins is clearly having a good time. At the helm of Line of Force, Hopkins adds Waitsian gravitas to a trove of players busting with talent.
At its best, the hearty collective cooks along with Trey Anastasio-worthy lead licks, feisty kit fireworks and Hopkins’ froggy growl. It’s easy to see them killing at South by Southwest, packing a little BBQ bar and letting their songs lead the sway of a sweaty crowd.
On its latest, “Symbiotic,” the band nails spacious ballads and sometimes crowds their kickers.
“Gratitude” manages to find a perfect storm of crowd caterwauling, breezy acoustic guitars and toe-twiddling horns. “Ostrich” is a moving community lament, with gospel layers of voice and gently rising horns. In “The Key,” LOF’s obvious gift for the soothing outro is brought to bear with interlocking guitar phrases, wandering sax and angelic electronica for euphoric effect. You could listen to this song’s end for hours.
Sometimes, the arrangements force the exhortation, crowding in too many elements for the mix to handle, as in the cacophony that ends “Just Be.” Sometimes, LOF drifts from its “less is more” strengths, as in the rambling platitudinous politics that spoil “Us Against Them.”
But is the world, and more specifically Portland, a better place with these outrageous players teaming up on stage night after night? Without a doubt. This is a band you want to watch a sunrise with.
Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.