This Bay Area duo have been nicknamed ‘The Blacker Keys’ by the US press, but their lo-fi, rough-hewn folk reels with a deliciously absinthian aftertaste and a bluntly poetic charm that marks these Two Gallants of a different feather. With a voice as sharp as the teeth of a saw and a richly romantic but unsentimental worldview colouring his lyrics- mostly bitter wisdoms and sour arguments sung with a winning absence of mercy- singer/guitarist Adam Stephens recalls Jack White, or the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle. The booze-fuelled strums and intricate, chiming melodies evoke a warm tone, which only hones the bite of couplets like "The lost cause of nerves runs away with my words/And I’m gay as a choirboy for you." A gloriously passionate, valorous, booze-stewed stumble; their next will be recorded for Saddle Creek, home to Bright Eyes. -Stevie Chick / Mojo (4 star rating)
Gruff sounding troubadours toting guitars and harmonica racks tend to get typecast as Bob Dylan soundalikes. Yet for this young duo from San Francisco, the comparison is legitimate. The Throes, is refreshingly ungarnished garage-folk, and as with Dylan, storytelling is paramount. – Julie Simmons / Harp
Two Gallants’ debut CD release, The Throes, is so earthy you might have to dust soil from it before sliding it into your player. It is a contemporary blues-based folk (which in this case, shouldn’t put you off) record, and it’s the work of two 21-year-old artists (not "artists" in any casual sense, but explicitly) from San Francisco. First of all, Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel are storytellers (they take their name from the sixth story in Joyce’s Dubliners). Their material harkens back more specifically, though, to the authorial territory of Raymond Carver and Richard Ford, writers who early in their careers were branded "dirty realists" — a term they grew to distrust, but one which neatly describes such blues-folk rebels as these. Two Gallants tell brutal tales of faded prospects and broken promises, of wrecked romances and lives departing along twisted tracks; these are stories of a grave and inevitable disappointment, and from where youth gathers such bleak histories, one might perhaps best wonder another time. There’s an unforced literacy at work here, and in the music, a barely tempered urgency. (…) This is distinctly an American music. It takes its lead from American backcountry blues.
– John Davidson / Pop Matters
The Throes, plays like a haunted course in American musicology, harking back to the murder ballads of Skip James, the outlaw country of Merle Haggard, and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter’s wild frontier balladry. The attention paid to narrative detail raises Stephens’s lyrics to poetic heights. He paints a vivid, rustic mythology of petty crime, vagabond longing, and hungover regret, where modern urban coexists with antiquated pastoral. These songs stand at the door of that continuum where the timeless words of Dylan and Guthrie reside. – SF Bay Guardian
If rock music is all about transience, how can a song born decades ago still rev up the engines of romance? "Tangled Up in Blue", for instance, is a tale of fading love, but the power and significance of the song itself is timeless. Rock ‘n’ roll is often an expression of youth or youth’s passing, but when music (or any art) endures, its magnetism is only amplified with the passage of years. For that reason, and because the best songs are usually pinned by the listener to some quintessential moment, the classics become classic. Passion is a fleeting feeling, but the best art will evoke that feeling with every exposure. So when youth produces a work of such force, when the raw or supposedly naïve artist comes up with something universal, critics and fans rejoice. We want to latch on to a beautiful thing before its green genius withers under the glare of success. Such is the case with Two Gallants’ debut The Throes. The San Francisco duo responsible for this gut-wrenching musical tragedy both just turned 21, yet somehow their musical hindsight extends far beyond recent memory and taps into a rusty vein swollen with grief, heartache and violent desperation.
When songwriting this evocative is paired with playing so dynamic, especially in an acoustic setting, Dylan comparisons are inevitable. Given Two Gallants’ guitar and drums lineup and rustic blues-based repertoire, many might cry White Stripes as well. There are better analogies, though: More narrative than abstract, Adam Stephenson’s lyrics are closer to Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter’s romantic Old West allegories, luckless sagas of trains and booze and double-crossing lovers. Meanwhile, Tyson Vogel’s shifting thoroughbred pulse on drums is less Meg White then Patrick Carney of The Black Keys. That The Black Keys’ and Two Gallants’ debut releases were both released on Alive Records is no coincidence; both embrace a hardened revivalist style that owes a lot to the dark Delta legends. But the mug-swinging sea shanty bluster and jailbreak urgency Two Gallants add to indie rock’s newfound blues idolatry are purely original, and make The Throes an electric, unforgettable listen. There’s a modernizing of old styles here– the album begins with a frantic garage-rock rearrangement of the 1930s Reverend Robert Wilkins track "You Losing Out". The gutsy "Nothing to You" opens like an angry country blues rant but tosses in some clever quips: "My kind’s been around forever/ Yet I claim to be one of the few/ And the lost cause of words walks away with my nerves/ ‘Cause I’m gay as a choir boy for you," and then later, "I followed you into the party/ That no one invited me to/ But I got so drunk and retarded/ I fell down the stairs and I fell into you."
Forgoing conventional verse/chorus/verse structure, these songs build a creaking work song practicality and archetypal power. "Fail Hard to Regain" contains almost no repetition, but Stephenson’s reedy voice tears into the subconscious and lodges mercilessly like a tick. It’s the albums most raucous, ballsy composition, Stephenson’s harmonica and guitar perfectly punctuated by Vogel’s storming percussion, and yet with speaks in stanzas reminiscent of a whiskey-soaked Dylan Thomas poem: "’Twas on a dark March evening, southbound I did ride/ My head was out the window when I found her at my side/ Asked where I was going to, I told her from where I came/ For the jails in which I’ve done my time, I fail hard to regain." That soulful Pogues-style urbanizing of down-home bumpkinism, combined with an unbridled, youthful vigor, balances the album’s startlingly troubling themes. "The Throes" tells intimately of a vicious, abusive relationship; accompanied by cello, "Crow Jane" is a haunting version of a traditional murder ballad covered by the likes of Skip James and Nick Cave. Like a course in musicology these songs bring out an incredible richness of history, telling stories based on the half-truths and legends that bring the ghosts of long dead musicians and musical styles into new light.
James Joyce was in his early 20s when he finished the short story of shiftless, dissolute youth that Two Gallants take their name from. Dubliners, the collection in which the story appeared in 1905, would later be hailed a literary masterpiece. Suffering only in its somewhat understated production, The Throes could be considered a masterpiece of new American roots music. It’s a heavy emotional investment, a struggle of the most fulfilling kind. There’s a lot to learn from these young bards, as much as they’ve learned in their short lives. When brilliance arrives so early it’s always that much more profound. – Jonathan Zwickel, July 7th, 2004 / Pitchfork Media (rating : 8.5)
Eprouvante (et parfois très comique, pour peu qu’on apprécie l’humour gothique) plongée dans les bas-fonds de la white-trash (violences domestiques, pendaison ou ivrognerie), la poésie détraquée d’Adam Stephens se joue dans cette grande tradition du storytelling qui, de l’Irlande aux Appalaches, de Raymond Carver à James Joyce, a fourni à l’imaginaire quelques-uns des antihéros les plus obsédants. C’est d’ailleurs chez James Joyce, dans Gens de Dublin (chapitre "Les Deux Galants"), que ce duo faussement ploucard et authentiquement lettré (ses histoires forment des petits scénarios que ne renieraient pas Tom Waits ou Jarmusch) a emprunté son patronyme. Musicalement, guitare et harmonica ont suivi les mêmes fascinants cours d’histoire, autant assidus que dissipés. Car si les Two Gallants connaissent à l’évidence par cur les ballades déglinguées de Robert Johnson, les pulsions malades de Leadbelly ou les chants sacrés de Leonard Cohen, ces deux blancs-becs de San Francisco n’en font qu’à leur tête de pioche avec l’héritage, qu’ils salissent et détournent à des fins honteusement personnelles. Sorte de White Stripes privés d’électricité et de couleurs, ils s’écrient : "I love my country but I fear your mother" ("J’aime mon pays mais je crains ta mère"). Ne serait-ce que pour ces mots, ils méritent l’amour, déraisonné. Le revival années 80 continue donc. Et on parle ici des années 1880. – Jean-Daniel Beauvallet / Les Inrockuptibles (France)
The Throes is nothing short of exquisite. Soulful, blues-driven songs unfurl dark folk narratives of tragedy, loss, and regret. Warm-toned guitar and a bright pleading harmonica overlay elastic-tight drums and spacious cymbals. Adam’s vocals ache out over the tracks, alternating between raspy vigor and quiet tenderness. Tyson sings here and there, compounding the intensity at key moments. They litter their songs with tempo changes – an oom-pah waltz slides into a scrambling chorus and back, followed by a song that builds with haunting steadiness to a lament-ridden denouement. Taken together, the effect is both unsettling and entirely satisfying. On stage, the Two Gallants surpass any expectations. Adam performs with an fervor that could blister the paint off the walls, spitting out lyrics like bitter-tasting fruit. His furious blues-inspired guitar picking and Adam’s warm rolling drums fill the room with a despondent beauty and passionate rawness that eludes recording. Their live set easily wins over unsuspecting listeners who, ears scalded and faces glowing, stay for just one more song. – Imaginary Jessica / Three Imaginary Girls
SF-based duo Two Gallants is young, but its songs seem to spring from old souls. Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel clearly look to timeless songwriters like Bob Dylan for inspiration, but they infuse the tracks on The Throes with very slight Irish influences and a healthy dose of punk energy. – The Onion
ROOTS & AMERICANA
Enough with the triangulation; let’s get down to specifics. One aspect of the Gallants’ artistry that distinguishes The Throes is a willingness to write from viewpoints other than the masculine first person. The harrowing epic "The Train That Stole My Man" could have sprung from the seasoned pen of Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn, while the title track finds an omniscient narrator detailing a gruesome scene of domestic violence in close quarters ("He’s got the kind of love that never shows"). "A lot of modern songwriting falls into a kind of repetitive voice," Stephens laments. He credits growing up in the liberal environs of S.F. as one key influence of opening up the Gallants to telling stories from other perspectives. "And also, just reading a lot of modernist authors," he adds. "That’s a big technique a lot of them used… [a man] writing as a woman, describing her family life, or writing as a Southern black man, even if you’re a wealthy white man from up North. So it’s kind of a combination of those." The band–who perform Tuesday, December 21, at the Crocodile–also display a gift for stretching their compelling songs out over seven and eight minutes, without descending to the mind-numbing repetitiveness of, say, "American Pie." Is there a trick to sustaining the listener’s interest for that long? Nope. "It’s more our inability to write a short song," admits Stephens. Themes of loss and heartbreak also recur throughout their work, but we’ll skip the analysis of Two Gallants’ abandonment issues. Besides, they always have each other. – Kurt B. Reighley / The Stranger
Although Two Gallants are barely old enough to get in the door at the clubs they play, their music reflects deep Americana and blues roots as well as cited influences ranging from backcountry musicians Skip James and Clarence Ashley to local punk rockers Operation Ivy. The childhood friends, who cribbed their band name from a James Joyce story, play songs with dark, complex lyrics that pack an emotional impact surpassing many of their indie rock elders. – San Francisco Flavor Pill
The debut album from San Franciscan duo Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel offers an appealing collection of good ole’ folk and country candy-coated with just enough pop to become addicting. Vocals reminiscent of Buddy Holly meet a grungy honky-tonk rock sensibility on tracks like "You Losin’ Out" and "Two Day Short Tomorrow," while slower, more anthemic numbers like "Crow Jane," "Train That Stole My Man" and the album’s title track conjure up comparisons to Jeff Buckley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Sparse yet capable musicianship lays down solid beats (in waltz time just as often as the standard 4/4) for compelling melodies and strong, powerful vocals. It’s a notable start for the pair heralding an irresistible new music scene in Northern Cali. Grade: B+ – Lisa Y. Garibay / Meanstreet
Interview for The Sentimentalist (Acrobat)
Interview for Law Of Inertia (Acrobat)
Two people, some guitars, a drum kit. Also a harmonica. Man, this set-up is the new Beatles. Fortunately, Two Gallants has the songs to make this already hackneyed approach sound fresh. Drawing more from folk than blues (though that’s in there as well), Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel’s tunes strip naked the boys’ emotional soul, even if the details don’t jibe with real life. "Fail Hard to Regain" and "Nothing to You" could be about anybody in the last 200 years-or the next 200-but the feeling behind them is timeless. – Michael Toland / High Bias
Employing a direct, simple folk style, the powerfully literate duo uses drums, guitar, harmonica, and voice to invoke a tattered, reckless world where men lose their nerve, children leave home, women are struck barren, and train whistles cut through more than just fog. With the release of the Two Gallants’ debut album, ‘The Throes’, comparisons to great modern folkies like Dylan will be difficult to avoid, as much for the distinctive vocals of Adam Stephens as for the poetic prowess of the pair, comprising Stephens and Tyson Vogel, who, despite the fact that they are just old enough to legally imbibe, have already constructed their own myths and matched them with artistic force. Unforgiving songs like "Fail Hard to Regain" and "Train That Stole My Man" possess all the urgency and violence of an old-fashioned miners’ strike song, yet they remain intimate tales of personal betrayal textured by old grease and apron strings; ballads like "Crow Jane" and "The Throes," which chronicle the anguish of love affairs, take on nearly archetypal significance. – Silke Tudor / SF Weekly
Two Gallants are channeling 60′s rock/folk at times, with a Johnny Cash edge of bitterness, and a definite punk attitude (the Man in Black had this as his second trademark! As punk as it gets) Two Gallants are good at their truly alt-country trade, and can only get better if their youth doesn’t take advantage of them. – Bitemezine
Typically I would not consider two guys playing music to be a band, I would call that a hobby. But in the case of Two Gallants, I’m willing to make an exception. Rarely have I heard a band as original and innovative as Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel’s Two Gallants manages to be. Now I don’t typically write reviews, it takes an album that I truly deem amazing to get me to rave. This album, entitled The Throes is a captivating, start-stop rollercoaster ride of emotion and lyrical ingenuity. Bob Dylan, Bluegrass and more modern Punk influences shape themselves into 53 minutes of amazing music (…). This album gets an 8.1 out of 10. The highest grade I’d give any album out so far this year. – Pat / Knifeparty
"One of the most interesting albums to cross the Atlantic in recent years."
Two Gallants have risen on the passion of their delivery and the depth of their lyrics, inflicting emotional scars of lost love and shattered innocence on awestruck audiences across the country. While Tyson Vogel keeps a shifting, dynamic pulse on the kit, guitarist Adam Stephens’s voice crackles like an exposed wire sort of a reedy, California-drawled Shane MacGowan with less liver damage. Their visceral, stripped-down punk folk blues is wincingly potent, totally unique, and something this city should be very proud of. – San Francisco Bay Guardian
Two Gallants made the cover of West Coast Performer – June issue
Two Gallants’ sound is distinctly their own. (…) It’s hard to believe a couple of things about this record. The first being the fact that all this full sound is coming from a duo instead of a traditional four piece. Obviously that’s all you need when that duo is Adam Stephens on guitar, harmonica and vocals and Tyson Vogel on the drums and backing vocals. The second thing is the musical and lyrical depth of these songs (…) Biting tales of lost love, suffering, violence and anguish flowing as poetically as Dylan with the story-telling style and occasional melodical flair reminiscent of Cat Stevens. Sometimes when I listen to a record, my mind starts to wander and I can’t keep my attention focused on the lyrics, however, this record kept me paying attention so that I wouldn’t miss the next great line. They just kept coming… "…cause it ain’t no difference which way I smile. I ain’t good lookin from a quarter mile." – from Crow Jane "I awake on the floor with my country at war and I wish I could care but my liver’s too sore. If liquor’s a lover you know I’m a whore." – from My Madonna. – Nick Murray / Just Add Noise (rating : 8.7)
It’s a precociously classic album. Where else can you hear a man barely in his twenties pen such lines of suffering as "and i’ll wake up on floor with my country at war / and I wish I could care but my liver’s too sore / and if liquor’s a lover, you know i’m a whore… " ("My Madonna"). And "Crow Jane," an extended, achingly simple and poetic ballad containing one of the best musical turns of phrase in recent history: "it ain’t no difference which way I smile / I ain’t good looking from a quarter mile." – Adam Greenblatt / West Coast Performer
The more you listen, the more you realize they are the perfect compliment to the sparse drum/guitar combo that mysteriously carries the thickness and volume of a full rock quartet. But it isn’t really rock they’re playing. It’s this odd jelling of backcountry-blues, one-guitar folk, and old punk. Imagine Bob Dylan, coked up, with distortion pedals. – Vinnie Baggadonuts / Taste Like Chicken
Local folk-punk duo Two Gallants represents the S.F. scene’s changing of the guard, so to speak. These barely drinking- age youths’ unique style is a clever throwback to both the poetic sentiments of the flower- power generation and classic Americana but with a young, punk-rock sensibility and a smart, give-it-to-you-straight quality that’ll surely speak to fans of the harder stuff. – SF Examiner