Long before music was the big market entertainment that it is today, it was mainly a devotional device, something used to create awe and inspiration. Elsewhere it was also used as a form of storytelling through the lower echelons of society, the newspaper of the day. It has since become something else, a commodity, a product to be formulated and fashioned to best serve the needs of an industry vying for the personal allowance of teen pop-pickers, the disposable incomes of prog completists and everyone in between. But when you listen to 21 Guns… it is to those older forms that the song alludes and although 308 Ghost Train is a band very much making music in the here and now, whether they consciously realise it or not, their form harks back to music’s purer and more original purposes.
21 Guns and a Million Tears, as the title suggests, is a dedication to those who lay down their life to protect the country that they serve, in this case America but something that everyone across the globe can relate to. It is both bitter-sweet and celebratory at the same time, a pitch point which is often difficult to get right with such material but here the band walk the perfect line between respect and revelry.
Musically the song follows a path that weaves between a Springsteen-esque blue-collar, heartland sound, Skynyrd style southern vibes and some straight down the line classic rock, a blend that results in power and poise in equal measure. It’s a raw, blues and southern infused salvo of roots rock, landing somewhere between the energetic and ferocious, and the melodic and groovesome and just enough of an alt-country swing to stand it apart from many of it’s die hard, classic rock rivals. It swaggers along with a cool stride rather than rushes to get the job done and is filled with musical motifs and sonic signatures that places them way south of the Mason-Dixon line. It comes as no surprise to find that they call the same state home as did the icon of this genre of music, Tom Petty.
That said, there is nothing parochial going on here, this is universal music, music which takes in all that is good, solid, cool and deftly conceived about rock music and then does interesting things with that tried and tested form. It takes its time, revels in groove over gimmick and the result is a awesome slice of powerful, purposeful and slightly predatory, prowling rock. And it does all of that whilst delivering a message that is both heartfelt and universal. Now that is the power of music.