Good Morning, Bear Cub
• Bear Cub was all set to release its third album back in March when it ran into a sudden impasse and parted ways with its New York-based label I Surrender Records.
"When it all went south I half expected the band to fall apart," says singer-guitarist Jesse Hall, "but instead everyone took it on the chin, and we've used it as a source of inspiration, adopting an us-against-them type attitude."
The Pittsburgh band, which split for Nashville in 2010, is coming back north this weekend to release "Good Morning, Every Morning," a 15-song album that builds a bigger wall of sound around the songs of Mr. Hall, who calls to mind Conor Oberst and Jeff Tweedy, and is more animated here than ever.
"It's definitely a much bigger record than our previous two efforts," Mr. Hall says. "I think it happened organically, from just wanting to write songs that are fun to play live and that people can move to. We've been working on the album for about two years and have recorded almost 100 songs in the process. The 15 that found their way onto the album have been battle-tested on the stage. The goal was simply to release a memorable record, songs that we'll enjoying playing live for years."
The singer-songwriter's earlier work revolved around his response to a painful break-up to a relationship that had taken him to Austin, Texas. This time around, the emotional vibe and sense of humor has brightened considerably, and it is top-loaded with bouncy, radio-friendly songs like "Stay Young, Stay Lost" and "The Classic," a rollicking piece of black-comedy pop. Sonically, it reaches from Beatlesque pop to Bright Eyes emo-folk to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion-style stomp.
Along with touching on themes of love and love-lost and growing up, he stops to reflect on recent business trouble on "Everything I Love Is Killing Me," singing, "The labels love my band, but they don't love me/they are scared of what I might say/as they should be." There's also a playful love song to his hometown in "For Pittsburgh, With Love and Squalor (Let's Go Out)."
"I think this record in general is a lot more upbeat, both musically and lyrically," Mr. Hall says. "There are a few love songs, a few hate songs, and some songs about having a good time and enjoying life. The last two albums had a much more somber feel. As a writer and as a person I'm in a much different place now, and I believe this record reflects that pretty well."
Part of what fills out the sound are the full-bodied vocal harmonies, which were not a big of Bear Cub's previous work.
"When Bear Cub started we didn't pay a ton of attention to background vocals, especially live," he says. "Also, we only had two singers in the band at the time. We were a four piece, now we're a six-piece band with four singers. We recorded the album with my father, Buddy Hall, who has a great talent for building harmony beds and picking out choice notes for interesting vocal harmonies. It's taken a lot of work in the rehearsal room to get all of the vocals worked out for our live show, but it's totally worth it. The band has never worked harder and, as a result, has never sounded better live."
Bear Cub's mission now is to take "Good Morning, Every Morning" on the road and win people over with the engaging live show.
"We made a sizable investment into a nice 15-passenger van that will allow us to travel to new cities and make some new friends. I am truly proud of this record and of the band. This is the best music we've put out to date with the best lineup we've ever had; it's up to us to go out and get after it now."
The release show is at the Rex Theater, South Side, at 9 p.m. Saturday with the New Shouts, and Gypsy and His Band of Ghosts. Admission is $15. All ages. Information: http://rex.greyareaprod.com.
Identity X remembers
• Pittsburgh alt-rock band Identity X will be at Altar Bar on Saturday for an all-ages fundraiser called Rock to Remember: A Tribute to Mike Haines, remembering the armored vehicle driver who was shot and killed during a robbery in February.
Proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Phi Delta Theta/Michael R. Haines Memorial Scholarship. Joining Identity X for the 6:30 p.m. show will be Downplay, The Morning After, Model Class Citizens, DJ DNAPPS, and more. Admission is $10; $12 at the door. Go to www.thealtarbar.com.
-- Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pgmusic