Beggars & Thieves is the album Carmen Sclafani has been working towards making the last several years. Wiser Time has, for two albums, There and Back Again (2006), All For One, 2008, been churning away at rootsy soulful rock music in the shadow of bands like Free or The Black Crowes. With Beggars & Thieves Wiser Time moves away from that history, hitting a stride and comfort zone, recording songs that are seasoned and catchy without overdoing it, without trying to sound catchy. Simply put, they sound like their own band, not like a band trying to fit in somewhere. They sound so at home here, writing songs that are from the gut and the heart. Its as if they just rolled tape and the band poured out music that didn't result from over thinking or writing music that was purposely genre specific.
Sclafani's voice has always been superb, but here he gets in good head space, singing in a way that exceeds prior work. With it Wiser Time places displaces bravado for wearing sincerity on the band's sleeve. This is a good choice, there's far less bombast here compared to the last two albums. On "Take Me Back Home" Sclafani is utterly believable, easy to feel his distance from home, the distance from the lover in the song. He paints solid imagery, like scene directions, with lyrics like "I could see you were acting a little/Sweet smile, then a tilt of a bottle."
The piano heavy "Its Hard Letting You Go" is a ballad that centers the album, slowing things down but with absolute purpose. "Keep it On" is a slightly slower number too, albeit one with guitar breaks that crunch and jerk. It's a subtle affair but begs the question what it would sound like if it were awash in a raw electric wall of sound. They keep it spare here, and it works solidly. "Seagull" closes the album, an interesting choice to cover given Bad Company's original spare acoustic construction. It's a beautiful song and Sclafani is right at home with it, affording it a subtle Middle Eastern feel. There have been few singers since the early seventies that can share space with soulful rock singers like Paul Rodgers. Here, Sclafani isn't overstepping his bounds at all. Wiser Time isn't coy about influences, from The Grateful Dead to Bad Company. The difference is that on Beggars & Thieves the band and Sclafani have moved beyond sounding like a particular style of rock music to being a band carving out its own trail. Here's hoping Sclafani digs even deeper, perhaps taking a detour like John Mellencamp has recently, recording fast and loose with older and cruder equipment. Its highly probable that Sclafani will continue to get even better with age, outshining each previous effort.