REVIEW: LANCO – ‘Hallelujah Nights’

LanCo, a shortened version of original name ‘Lancaster and Company’, formed in 2013. They met famed producer Jay Joyce at a Keith Urban concert and signed to his publishing company before then signing for Arista, Nashville. An appearance on Billboard magazines ‘Ones to Watch’ in 2016 when they were given the moniker of ‘Country music’s Imagine Dragons’ was promising but it was the release of their EP last year and the subsequent radio smash hit ‘Greatest Love Story’ that really brought them to the attention of the masses

Anticipation is high, then, for this debut release and I can confidently report that the band haven’t let us down. ‘Hallelujah Nights’, one of the first ‘big’ releases of the calendar year will still be with us come year end, it will make many people’s ‘Best Of’ lists and it will serve as a launching pad for a glittering career to come, heralding the creation of yet another new sub-set of Country music, a genre that fractures and splits on a weekly basis, much to the wailing and angst of the traditionalists, that sub-set being huge arena anthems in the style of Imagine Dragons and Mumford & Sons played on largely traditional instruments and electric guitars.

Imagine, if you will, what Bon Jovi tried to do with their ‘Lost Highway’ album, merging huge rock sensibilities with the grit and the integrity of Nashville’s writers. ‘Hallelujah Nights’ does that effortlessly and then some. Lead singer, Brandon Lancaster, has written or co-written every track on the album, something that is more prevalent in the rock world than in Country music. In fact, how many Country bands can you actually name that are viable concerns in 2018? Old Dominion? Eli Young Band? There aren’t many – it’s more of a pop and rock tradition. So what LanCo are trying to do is brave. Creative and very brave yet they pull it off with considerable elan. There are other influences in the mix too – the lyrical trickery of Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train is in evidence on some tracks too as the band continue to blur the edges between rock, pop and country. You can even track some of their influences back to the great commercially successful bands of the 90’s like Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 but ultimately they are a Country-rock band with the world at their feet, having, as they do, massive crossover potential – this band could go out on tour with Keith Urban but could ultimately open shows for the likes of Bon Jovi or even Imagine Dragons themselves.

The most surprising thing about ‘Hallelujah Nights’ is that ‘Greatest Love Story’, their biggest hit to date, is the only ballad on the album and thank god for that too! I was worried that there would have been a last-minute scramble for co-writes in an effort to emulate or replicate a sound or style that proved successful last year. ‘Greatest Love Story’ is a lovely song but it is by no means the best song on the album. If you haven’t heard it yet it’s a traditional tale of ‘boy-meets-girl, girl-goes-off-to-college-and dumps-boy, girl-comes-back-from-college-and-marries-boy’ – Ooops! Maybe I should have prefaced that with ‘Spoilers’?

It was a top ten radio hit last year but what you don’t want is for it to be the best song on the album because that means everything else you hear from LanCo is worse than the very first song they released, but thankfully that is not the case.

This album is chock full of anthems. Upbeat, sing-a-long anthems with huge drum sounds and soaring vocals. Album opener and new single ‘Born to Love You’ is the poster child for that style of song. The song starts slowly and quietly, as do many of the tracks on offer here. The chugging guitars kick in in verse 2, augmented by a playful keyboard sound and the chorus explodes in a wash of vocals, taking the song to another level. This is the sound that Bon Jovi have been trying to find for the last ten years and ‘Born to Love You’ could very easily have been lifted from the aforementioned artist’s last album, ‘This House is not For Sale’.

Other anthems include ‘Long Live Tonight’ and ‘We Do’ – both similar in their ‘live for the moment’ sentiment and the way they follow the modern pattern for quieter verses and explosive choruses. ‘Singing at the Stars’ has a chorus that is eerily similar to ‘We Do’ that had me initially thinking that the band had lifted the it from another song, until I realised it was one of their own!

The most modern sounding song on ‘Hallelujah Nights’ is a track called ‘Win You Over’. It has a Florida Georgia Line influenced rap/spoken first verse layered on top of some traditional sounding banjo that gives way to another huge chorus and one of many cool electric guitar solos on the album. ‘Song Long (I Do)’ owes much to 90’s veterans Train. Brandon Lancaster uses a kind of Pat Monahan (the lead singer of Train) vocal cadence in his intonation during the first verse but then the Mumford and Sons style drums kick in and the song explodes into a huge anthem.

‘Hallelujah Nights’ isn’t all one-dimensional sing-along anthems (although what could possibly be wrong with that?) though. There are two tracks, two rabble-rousing, barn dance foot stompers right out of left-field that add a bit of variation and difference to the album. ‘Trouble Maker’ is a funky, loose number about a hard-to-handle girl. Lancaster sings, “Every guy can’t help but wanna be in on the action, hip-shaker, heart-breaker, trouble maker, I’ll take her.” Big gang vocals and dirty slide guitar take the album out of the Imagine Dragons meets Bon Jovi meets Train type of sound that is so prevalent and into a very different territory. The same could be said of ‘Middle of the Night’, the penultimate song on the album. A harmonica and banjo drive the song forward, a foot-stomper, barn dance of a song. Shouted backing vocals make this one feel like something you might hear in your local pub on a Friday night, providing again, a different feel and variation to ‘Hallelujah Nights’.

Then we come to the last song on the album, the title track, coming in at 6 minutes long. It’s the bravest, most experimental song on the album so it is no surprise that the band chose it to complete the track listing, hinting, as it does, at where the evolution of the band might go. An ethereal, dreamy start gives way to Lancaster’s vocal and a drum beat that you know is just going to build and build! The lyrics are in keeping with the theme of the album, that ‘live for the moment, we’re young and looking for fun’ kind of sentiment that runs all the way through Lancaster’s writing. A modern sounding Bon Jovi guitar line underpins the song which then gradually fades out into a part instrumental that carries a spoken word monologue about ‘finally feeling free’ which lasts for the last two minutes of the song. In this one song, the band have revealed what they could evolve into given freedom and time from the record label and the added experience of a few years of life. Their lyrics are youthful and aspirational right now, which is spot on for where they are in their lives but that cannot sustain over many more albums without becoming one dimensional so Lancaster’s challenge will be how to maintain and evolve the lyrical content of his songs without losing the sheer joy and anthemic landscape that they currently have.

‘Hallelujah Nights’ is pure joy in album form. It’s a brilliant debut album, up-beat, up-lifting and life affirming. The band have succeeded in working well within the narrow confines of what the genre demands whilst still creating something new and original. They are destined for big, big things in the years to come and it will be fascinating to see how and in what ways they evolve. Welcome to the world, LanCo, now let’s kick some ass!

James Daykin
@RockJames