• 22-20s
  • 05/03 EP (UK Heavenly) 2003  (Astralwerks) 2003 
  • 22 Days EP (UK Heavenly) 2004 
  • 22-20s (UK Heavenly) 2004  (Astralwerks) 2005 
  • Live in Japan (Japan. EMI) 2005 
  • Latest Heartbreak Live EP (TBD) 2010 
  • Shake/Shiver/Moan (TBD) 2010 

Formed by teenagers in the Lincolnshire town of Sleaford, taking their name from a Skip James song, the 22-20s made their mark in the UK with an energetic take on the blues. The quartet bowed in with a live EP (five originals plus a cover of Slim Harpo’s “King Bee”) and became a national sensation in 2004 with the release of a self-titled debut. The album echoes the classic blues-revivalist tradition of earlier British rock generations, but relies more on songwriting (credit guitarist/vocalist Martin Trimble) and tight ensemble playing than instrumental flash. “Devil in Me,” “Baby Brings Bad News,” “22 Days,” “Why Don’t You Do It for Me?,” “I’m the One,” the rustic “Friends” and the understated “The Things That Lovers Do” all are top-notch. Trimble and his bandmates — keyboardist Charley Coombes, bassist Glen Bartup and drummer James Irving — lay the songs down with considerable style and just the right amount of swagger. Producer Brendan Lynch (Paul Weller, Primal Scream, Ocean Colour Scene) provides a lean, uncluttered sound, with plenty of sawtooth edge to the guitar, classic organ and electric piano and a driving rhythm section. He also keeps the songs from stretching out to self-indulgence. “Hold On” is the only track to break the five-minute mark, and the band makes good use of the spread, with a churning arrangement that features shivery, spooky guitar interplay. 22-20s is a winning debut. (The US edition includes a bonus track, the country-flavored ballad “Baby You’re Not in Love,” which appeared as a B-side in the UK.)

Live in Japan offers a nearly complete concert reprise of the debut, along with the originals “Messed Up” (which first appeared on 05/03), “Cut You Down,” “Weight Off Me” (both of which had been used as B-sides) and another live rendition of “King Bee.”

The 22-20s felt the pressures of quick success colliding with the purist strictures of the UK-based blues scene, and broke up while working on a second album. The quartet regrouped in 2009, with ex-Jubilees guitarist Dan Hare replacing Coombes (who had joined his brothers Gaz and Rob as a touring member of Supergrass). Following a teaser live EP of new songs, the band released the excellent Shake/Shiver/Moan. Writing as a unit, the band comes up with a more eclectic set of songs, and producer Ian Davenport (Supergrass, Badly Drawn Boy) gives those songs a more spacious sound than the debut. The 22-20s take urgent rockers like “Heart on a String,” “Talk to Me,” “Latest Heartbreak” and the title track through plenty of dynamic maneuvers, building up the music’s tension masterfully without ever losing focus on the melodies. Slower numbers like “Bitter Pills” and the disc-closing “Morning Train” show the band sublimating its earlier blues-based approach into a sound that’s more its own. And the quartet adds marvelous touches of classic Merseybeat to “Ocean,” “4th Floor” and “Let It Go,” suggesting what the ill-fated La’s might have done on a second album. Trimble’s voice is clearer and stronger than on the debut, and the lyrics display a growing sophistication, as on the strongly structured chorus of “4th Floor” (“The pleasure isn’t worth the pain / You say ‘forever’ then that things have changed / There’s no treasure hidden here to gain”) and the defeated protagonist’s pleas in “Bitter Pills” (“Please understand / I’m still getting used to the passenger’s side”). Shake/Shiver/Moan shows the 22-20s’ second incarnation to be a stronger, better band. (The disc’s Japanese release includes the four excellent live tracks from Latest Heartbreak Live, which is available as a free download from the group’s website.)

[Delvin Neugebauer]