December Last Call: Driftwood’s New LP Needs to be Savored

December Last Call, the latest LP from Binghamton’s storied Americana band Driftwood, is a prime example of what makes the Binghamton music scene stand out. And to explain why, I first need to state that as a teenager in the 1990’s, I was shot multiple times by a very polite elderly cowboy.

That last sentence was probably alarming to anyone who didn’t spend time in Center City Binghamton during said cowboy’s lifetime. But don’t worry, I was fine. It was an honor, really. A pretty endearing way for the local legend colloquially known as “Elvis” to say hello.

The Parlor City is one that embraces the eccentric in only the best ways. There’s a certain creativity flowing through this city—the home of the Twilight Zone and the birthplace of virtual reality. And naturally, that concept permeates the Binghamton music scene, too. Bands here tend to avoid limiting themselves by any particular musical modus operandi.

That’s a big part of what makes Driftwood such a special band. Not only are these five of the most talented musicians you’re likely to meet, but their music pulls together select components from several genres to give them a sound you can only really describe as Americana. It’s rock, country, bluegrass, folk, indie, and an aggregate of all of the above, and a lot more too.

Driftwood very graciously allowed us to review December Last Call before its release tomorrow, March 22nd 2024 (you should pre-save it here). And to sum up what you’re about to read, December Last Call is an amalgamation of sounds that can only be cultivated over five studio albums, two live LPs, and coast-to-coast touring. And it’s a sound as distinctly Binghamtonian as a gentle, smiling cowboy tipping his pistols your way.

The title track, December Last Call, starts this LP with a bang

Driftwood fans may have already heard the title track, December Last Call, which was released as a single late last year. And it’s a great song to kick off an LP with. This is a track where Driftwood brings together an upbeat American rock sound with a very strong country heartbeat, brightened with brilliant arrangements on strings that give the song a healthy helping of color.

One of the very first things to draw my attention is just how vibrant and lively the recording itself is. There’s a fullness and warmth to the recording that you frankly don’t hear often in this modern era of engineers putting drums “in the grid” and hurling around compression for the sake of compression. Warmth so often results in a certain dullness, but not here. Everything is put forth with clarity and precision. It’s hard to believe this was recorded in the home of Joe Kollar’s parents, unless they happen to live in a AAA recording studio. It’s a production quality well worthy of individual kudos.

Those high marks for production continue through the whole album, and they’re ever more present in the second single from December Last Call, and the second track as well. Every Which Way But Loose leans a bit more toward the rock end of Driftwood’s sonic spectrum. But it slides, literally and proverbially, into that upbeat country sound Driftwood often flavors their music with. This is an excellent addition to any heartland road trip playlist.

Claire Byrne is an exceptional singer-songwriter, and Just a Kid exemplifies that

The third track on December Last Call pushes the meter more toward country, with Sam Fishman keeping everything chugging along with a rock-solid drum beat. This is another high-energy song that gets your feet moving. Claire Byrne is an exceptional singer-songwriter, and Just a Kid exemplifies that. Her vocals here are warm, dynamic, and lively, delivering moving lyrics with a folk undercurrent drizzled in a healthy dose of country tone.

Float Away changes gears in a big way from the three tracks prior. There’s a very strong vintage folk vibe at the start of this track that harkens back to the golden era of Bob Dylan, with a bursting chorus that should single-handedly land this track on any dependable indie rock playlist. There’s a chord progression in use here that somehow draws my brain to the Weezer classic My Name is Jonas, even though there’s not really anything similar about these tracks.

In either case, prepare yourself for a very hungry earworm. Once you’ve heard Float Away, it’s going to stick around in your head for a good long time. This song might be my favorite on the album, though there’s some serious competition that we’ll get to shortly.

Driftwood is one of the most successful bands to ever hail from the Binghamton music scene. Their sixth album December Last Call is out March 3rd 2024
Driftwood is one of the most successful bands to ever hail from the Binghamton music scene. Image courtesy of Driftwood, used with permission

The fifth track on December Last Call is an absolute masterpiece

On Monday, I mentioned Radiohead in my review of The C&G Spot, an upcoming LP from another of Joe Kollar’s bands, Caviar & Grits. And as much as I hate to use them in another analogy so soon, it just can’t be helped when discussing the fifth song, Continental Lincoln. An absolute masterpiece that showcases just how much range Driftwood is capable of. And another easy contender as one of my very favorite tracks.

This is a stunningly gorgeous song, and the most dramatic departure from the tones established earlier on the album. Any Radiohead fan who starts this track at the 1:25 mark will understand immediately why I’m invoking them here. On an album that so smoothly compels your feet to motion, this track catches you off-guard with a stunning build-up that might convince your smartwatch you’re jogging up a flight of stairs. There’s so much atmosphere here, so much depth. And I especially love Joey Arcuri’s bass riffery here, too.

Track six is another song you may have heard if you follow Driftwood. Up All Night Blues, another single released last month, sees Byrne reassume lead vocal duties on a song that brings December Last Call down yet another avenue of style.

Byrne’s singing is simply magical here. There’s a strong country presence to her voice, but she blends it with a Carole King delivery that culminates in some of the biggest and best singing on the entire album. And that’s saying something on an album of this remarkable caliber. This song is definitely yet another of my favorites on December Last Call.

Here At Last brings December Last Call on yet another stylistic adventure

For a band I so frequently describe as dynamic and explorative, Here at Last manages yet again to surprise me. This song brings Driftwood down to the Ozarks with a relaxed bluegrass energy steeped in country and folk. It’s a chill, approachable sound that brings December Last Call on yet another stylistic adventure that we, as listeners, are all too happy to follow Driftwood on.

You’ve surely spotted the trend of every song on this album featuring a different, unique style. Know You’re Mine takes us on yet another very welcomed curve. It’s a gorgeous and moving ballad, delivered with Byrne’s singing that I’ll again very comfortably liken to Carole King. It’s a beautiful acoustic track rinsed with atmospheric guitars. And it reminds you once more of just how immaculate the engineering is on this album. You could tell me this was recorded at AIR in London and I would wholeheartedly believe you.

Stardust brings this incredible album to a somber, emotional close

By the time you reach the final track on December Last Call, you’re a little bummed to realize the album is coming to an end. But Driftwood is a band that understands fully the value of taking their listeners on an aural journey. And they couldn’t have chosen a more perfect track to end this particular voyage with. Stardust brings this incredible album to a somber but promising close, with more of the band’s definitive atmospherics and depth on glorious display.

Stardust is a beautiful track that you’ll absolutely lose yourself in. And you’ll lose all sense of time while you’re listening to it as well. I was honestly surprised to finish this song, and then realize nearly 12 minutes had passed me by. At no point do you feel like the song is repetitive or worse, dragging. Dan Forsyth and Driftwood are masterful at presenting their fans with deep, genuine substance. These are 12 minutes very well spent on a track that likely wouldn’t work quite so well if it were condensed and crammed into a more traditional two- to four- minute space.

December Last Call proves conclusively that Driftwood only gets better with time

If you know me personally, there’s a decent chance you know that modern country is one of the few musical genres I’ve never managed to get into. There are some exceptions of course. I’ll gladly state that Farewell Transmission by Songs: Ohia is one of the best albums of this century to date. So it often surprises people when I admit to enjoying anything even remotely adjacent to country. And if you’re in that camp, this next sentence will take you for a whirl. I absolutely adore this album.

There’s a particular country aesthetic to a lot of their songs, but it’s simply factually incorrect to try and bottle Driftwood up into any one genre. December Last Call is less a collection of songs as it is a tome of creative musical cartography. No two songs on this album share the same sonic air. And yet it all comes together so flawlessly. This album has many of those traits that made me fall in love with Farewell Transmission, and like that album, this one too is literally a masterpiece.

From the unmistakable twang of a Telecaster driving us through Appalachia, to the shoegaze gossamer cascading over Driftwood’s signature folksy charm, December Last Call is a breathtaking exploration of sound and style. It’s an instant classic of timeless substance that shrugs away any loyalty you may have to one particular genre, or any aversion toward another that might temper your objectivity. This album is, simply put, phenomenal.

December Last Call will be available worldwide this Friday (3/22/24). Be sure to pre-save this album, and get yourself ready with a nice pair of headphones, a cozy blanket, and your favorite beverage. This album isn’t merely one for your morning commute. December Last Call needs to be savored.

Legendary Binghamton band Driftwood will release their latest studio album, December Last Call, on Friday