Their 2009 debut album was the ultimate in hipster fodder, but Austin’s the Strange Boys instantly stood out from the garage-rock-revivalist hordes. Sure, they and their peers all dug the same sixties records and vintage gear, but The Strange Boys and Girls Club wasn’t slavishly derivative. It aspired to be nothing other than what it was: a (poor) recording of an exciting young band made in, yes, a friend’s garage. It wasn’t as much the material as the fierce individualism of singer-songwriter Ryan Sambol that commanded your attention. While his creaky, older-than-his-years whine gave off a hint of an early Dylan/Jagger vibe, he sang like a man with a lot more on his mind than what records he wanted to imitate. As Sambol and his band enter their golden years (his brother Phil is the only member north of 25), they’ve swapped some of the fuzz and furious tempos for a rootsier but no less thrilling sound. Production-wise, Be Brave (In the Red) remains primitive but fuller and brighter, and this time, Sambol’s songs are loaded with delights. The wildly infectious title track, with its Junior Walker meets Peter Brötzmann sax break, is a standout, but there are many others: “Night Might,” featuring Sambol’s ghostly howls; the Stones-y blues of “Between Us”; the driving folk rock of “I See” and “Friday in Paris.” Sidestepping cool cynicism for genuine vulnerability, Sambol expands his palette to include ballads, taking the Strange Boys down unexpected paths that might lead them out of the garage for good.
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