Judging from the latest release from the New Amsterdams, Story Like a Scar, lead singer Matt Pryor is more than familiar with loneliness. The 10 tracks on this disc evoke not only the peculiar isolation of being a touring band, but the wind-whistle and emptiness that America's heartland is good at inspiring music about (check out Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album for one definitive example).
However, loneliness doesn't have to be all sad, as Pryor and company prove with the one-two punch of the opening tracks, "The Death of Us" (which is melancholy) and the hopeful "Turn Out the Light" (which isn't). Roots rock is on the menu, and except for the jazz-flavored "Your Ghost," which reads more like a B-side from a Wilco tribute band, the Amsterdams step right and hit their marks every time, with the high points being "Turn Out the Light," "Past the Pines," and the moody "A Small Crusade." The Amsterdams aren't the flashiest band you'll ever hear, but that's OK; choosing to focus on solid musicianship and songwriting in the alt-country/roots rock vein works just fine for this reviewer.
That's not to say the Amsterdams are a one-trick pony; in addition to jazz flavorings, they borrow a few stylings from the punk side of the fence on "Intelligent Design," a less-than-friendly ode to one of Kansas' recent educational efforts. And to show that a band isn't just its instruments, the album closes on an even more stripped down (i.e. bass drum and handclaps) reprise of "Turn Out the Light." Solid and heartfelt, Story Like a Scar is a worthy addition to the CD collection of alt-country fans everywhere. If that sounds like your bowl of Wheaties, check out Mr. Pryor and his boys when they blow into the Big Easy on September 7 with Mae and Vedera.