Variation on an old joke: How can you tell if someone is from Texas? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. There’s nowhere else Vandoliers could be from, but the Dallas band might have shed too much of its Texas identity on “Forever,” with songs that triangulate punk-rock, country and Tejano sounds—sometimes to a fault. It’s thrilling when they nail it: the big horns and gnashing guitars of “Sixteen Years” are fist-pump rousing, and singer Joshua Fleming belts out the words with scratchy-throated feeling on the full-throttle, world-weary “Nowhere Fast.”
Sometimes, though, they lay it on a little thick. “Cigarettes in the Rain” tips from wistful into maudlin, with weepy fiddle and lyrics that tick a lot of boxes: cigarettes, rain, woman who done run off, hard livin’. It’s got it all, so no surprise that it sounds like everything else in the same vein. The hard-charging “Troublemaker” is basically one long boast about having a bad attitude and anger issues.
Vandoliers had carved out a more distinctive niche on 2017’s “The Native,” which emphasized a borderlands Tejano feel that leaned more toward country than the hardcore undercurrent on “Forever.” All the grit and rasp here veers pretty close to what a lot of other bands are doing, and the Gaslight Anthem, Dave Hause and Lucero, among others, have a pretty strong lock on catchy songs packed with raw emotion—and Lucero makes better use of horns. “Forever” has its moments, but not quite enough of them.