The Dying Elk Herd’s debut album, For Real This Time, has been basically on constant repeat in the Ruttville CD player for the past week. The much-anticipated disc most definitely delivers on the promise of their first two singles, the anthemic “Another Restless Night” and the insanely catchy “Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You.”
For Real This Time may be The Dying Elk Herd’s debut album, but the band members themselves have been playing, both apart and together, for some time now. Dave Benner, Greg Cathey and Curt Laudenberger are all veterans of the Lancaster punk scene. Dave started out in Nobody’s Fools back in the mid-80s while Greg and Curt cut their teeth in The Dilemmas; all three eventually wound up members of Kirk & The Jerks and, later, Mystery City. That pedigree is audible in the Herd’s material. There is much reverence for the past in the music (fans of Generation X, Stiff Little Fingers and early Clash are urged to move to the front of the line), but nothing here sounds dated or anachronistic.
The Herd come charging out of the gate in the opener, ”Progress Has A Price.” The chiming guitars, driving beat and earnest lyrics set the tone for the rest of the ride. “Restless Night” and “Riverbeast” are here, of course, amid hook-filled, sing (or shout) along concoctions like “Times Of Peril,” “Tired, Weary, Worn Out And Broke” and “The Fight To Be Free.”
The song that caught me most by surprise, though, is the closer, “Every Avenue.” No new ground is being broken here: punk kid has grown up and waxes nostalgic for the good old days while realizing the person he’s grown to be could only exist by living that life. It’s a deft tightrope walk – a lyric like “…so I stumbled through my teens and through the Overlook Dance/And then on to Stan’s Records down Prince Street…” runs a high risk of overshooting the feeling of wistful nostalgia and landing somewhere between maudlin tripe and pretentious name-checking just to get a cheap pop from their fellow Lancastrians. Here, they walk that line successfully, coming across with a gritty realness that hits home for anyone. The fact that I, too, stumbled through my share of dances at the Overlook Skating Rink and spent most of my high school job’s earnings at Stan’s Record Bar, only means I know the precise places mentioned. Substitute your town’s local dance, indie record shop, neighborhood subdivisions and other landmarks, and you’ve lived it, too.
You can pick up For Real This Time through The Dying Elk Herd’s own website, or download through iTunes, and you really should. I’ve shared “Another Restless Night” and “Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You” in earlier posts, so this time around, with the kind permission of Dave Benner, I’m sharing the excellent opening track, “Progress Has A Price,” and the stunning closer, “Every Avenue.” Enjoy!