It's been five years since the San Francisco duo Two Gallants has released a record. Back then, its albums were coming out on Conor Oberst's Saddle Creek record label — a rare achievement for a band with no ties to Nebraska — and blurring the many edges separating folk, rock, blues and old-time roots music. The whole racket was held together through a commitment to, well, commitment: Singer-guitarist Adam Haworth Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel write white-knuckle songs of intensity and passion, then perform them intensely and passionately.
During Two Gallants' layoff, Stephens made a fine solo record (We Live on Cliffs) and survived a horrific 2010 van crash, so it makes sense that he seems revitalized by the separation and near-tragedy. Newly signed to the ATO label — home of My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes and many others — Two Gallants will release a new album, The Bloom and the Blight, this fall. Not surprisingly, its first single ("My Love Won't Wait") is infused with the rawness that's long been the pair's stock in trade, but there's also a big, brash, almost slick veneer to it. There's clearly a push afoot to bring Two Gallants out of basements and under bandshells.
That's never clearer than about 15 seconds into "My Love Won't Wait," when the band follows an a cappella intro with a surge of chunky guitar fuzz. Where Two Gallants once clattered and shambled, the duo's intensity now gets whipped into a furious storm — the stuff of hard-rock anthems, not coffeehouse clatter. "Something ain't quite right with me / I can't seem to let you be," Stephens and Vogel shout in unison in the chorus, and more than ever, their urgency is enhanced by the bluster with which they've surrounded themselves.
In an email, we asked Stephens for his take on "My Love Won't Wait":
It's just a love song in the traditional sense: devotion, fidelity, commitment — any violation of which would lead to the termination of the relationship in your typical murder-suicide. It's mostly autobiographical. The rest is Virginia Woolf.
The Bloom and the Blight will be out on ATO Records on Sept. 4.