Album Review: Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties — ‘Routine Maintenance’

Posted: by The Editor

Upon hearing the pitch for Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties, it’s hard not to imagine it as a theater student taking method acting too far. But the project comes from somewhere much more passionate for Dan Campbell: wrestling. Aaron West is not just about the music, it is a character whose story has been meticulously crafted and expanded, as well as embodied, by Campbell in the same way the best fighters create personas of their own. If concerts were wrestling events, Aaron West’s would be the headlining match every night based solely on the excitement that genuine authenticity brings out in audiences.

The story of the album picks up pretty much right where we left off with the last release. The character of West is still reeling from the previously described single worst year of his life, which included the death of his father, a miscarriage, a separation from his wife, and a soul-searching, self-destructive trip down and back up the east coast. This time around, we see a more mindful journey across the country to the west coast with West searching for personal growth and his place in the world before a somber, yet touching return home.

Fans of The Wonder Years will find familiarity in Campbell’s deeply personal songwriting perspective as well as his heartbreakingly emotional vocal performances. Coming in cold, one could easily mistake these songs as autobiographical. Hell, even those who are indoctrinated may find themselves second-guessing and wondering if this album could truly be rooted in fiction. This is largely due to the beauty of individual moments littered throughout these ten tracks. An early standout is the simple line “I’m sorry,” delivered in “Just Sign the Papers” after West accidentally calls his ex-wife “honey” as the divorce is finalized. Similarly vivid is the description of West’s living situation in California on “Rosa & Reseda”, emphasized by the line “We used to smoke on the fire escape, now we just smoke in the living room.”

Musically the album spans the gamut from acoustic singer-songwriter to a full rock band complete with a horn section and more. “Burry Me Anywhere Else” closes out with a saxophone solo leading into the banjo riff of “Rosa & Reseda”, while “God & the Billboards” features a quaint and poignant fiddle solo. Both Campbell’s vocals and the story serve as a steady through line, keeping the album grounded in a way that allows the experimentation to be exciting rather than distracting.

The lyrics on the album don’t just reference the album itself, but the world that has been created throughout the Aaron West discography. Some of these are obvious such as in “Runnin’ Toward the Light” where West individually thanks just about every character that has helped him along the way as he belts out the fact that following his musical dreams is for them. Others are subtler like the nod to West’s deceased father whose genes shine through in West’s nephew in “Winter Coats”. The album’s close brings the story full circle in many ways with West finding great pride and strength in offering the same to his family while becoming a father figure to his nephew. It may not be how he anticipated his life would be, but the record sees West reflecting, “I’ve been out looking for where the light went / I think I’ve found out where the light is.” With Campbell a recent father himself and likely reflecting on many aspects of his life, perhaps Routine Maintenance is a bit more personal than one would immediately believe.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

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Scott Fugger | @Scoober1013

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