Many potential listeners for The Cavalry’s debut Build Your Own Empire will be mislead by preconceptions of the Nashville rock genre being inherently disposable, but the five songs on this first release and accompanying performances are quite capable of dispelling any such cynicism. The Cavalry has great rousing musical energy and a surplus of melody, but Tristan Jackson’s vocals are among the deepest feeling in the genre and refrain from taking any short cuts towards satisfying the listener. Instead, the songs touch on experiences virtually all listeners can share while still speaking from a very personal place. Tristan Jackson throws himself wholeheartedly into this material and never backs down once from investing it with all of the energy and passion that it deserves. It benefits, lastly, from exceptional production that renders everything in vivid color and hits a great balance between the competing sounds.
The strengths of that production are evident on the first song. “JFK Intro” sets a strong and eloquent tone for the remainder of the album without ever sounding out of place despite its decidedly different musical slant from the EP’s remaining four songs. It never goes on too long either and, as a result, doesn’t throw the album off balance. “Don’t Mean You’re Gone” has some predictable lyrical and musical turns for the genre, but The Cavalry are adept at pouring old wine into new bottles and the genuine verve that Jackson and his cohorts bring to this performance redeems any familiarity. The predictable path that the track takes is doubly smooth thanks to how well both vocalist and players execute its changes. Kristie Lane guests on the ballad “Wake Up Call” but, rather than dueting with Jackson, she provides beautiful and impassioned counterpoint to the primary vocal. There’s a melodic density to the song that makes it one of Build Your Own Empire’s most unusual and lasting achievements.
One of the EP’s best moments comes with “When the Radio’s Gone”, a deceptively simple bit of songwriting that, after repeated listens, reveals a wealth of undercurrents sure to please a wide audience. It is clearly the song most clearly aimed for commercial success and a number of factors make this possible. The strongest of these qualities, however, is the subtle uptick in tempo that comes with the chorus and its rousing effect on the song is impossible to ignore. The last song “Red, White, & Blue Jeans” hits on some common, universal imagery that hits immediately hits home with the audience embedded into a strident and strongly arranged Nashville Rock track. It ends Build Your Own Empire with a big number that emphasizes The Cavalry’s ambitions with this release. Tristan Jackson obviously intends on making the deepest possible impact with this release and the quality enables him to succeed. The EP’s five songs have a variety of moods and aren’t ever just simple-minded and straight forward pop country songs – instead, the personal and universal meet here with memorable and often combustible results.
9 out of 10 stars