One spin through Pete Dressman's new album, Vol. II, might give the impression that the Cincinnati singer/songwriter and his band, the Soul Unified Nation, are unrepentant lovers of contemporary classic Rock icons like Pearl Jam who wouldn't be the least bit out of place opening for locally-based Psych Rock trio Buffalo Killers. And you'd be right. A spin through Dressman's debut album, 2008's The Current, might give the impression that he has an abiding respect for '70s Folk troubadours and feels completely at ease alone on stage with his acoustic guitar and a head full of heartfelt songs. And you'd be right. Dressman isn't necessarily trying to be all things to all people. It just happens that way. "I like classic music, that's definitely an influence," the Cincinnati-based singer/songwriter says over lunch at the Hyde Park Cock and Bull pub. "I even wanted (Vol. II) to sound more classic than it does, but I think it came out great." Even before the release of The Current just more than four years ago, Dressman was difficult to succinctly categorize. In the intervening span of time, he embraced a fuller electric Rock sound, but since finishing Vol. II with the S.U.N. as a quartet, the lineup has again shifted to a trio (with bassist Eric Keyes and drummer Kevin Finkelmeier) and Dressman has dialed the volume down in favor of a folkier, more subdued yet still powerful live presentation. "We play out mostly acoustically, so it felt natural to go back to a more stripped-down, laidback kind of style," Dressman says. "Our first album was more like that. This new album has been sitting on the shelf for two years. All these songs are pretty old, for us." Monetary concerns and scheduling conflicts made it necessary for Dressman and the S.U.N. to record Vol. II in piecemeal fashion, adding a considerable amount of downtime to the process. As much time and energy as Dressman has expended on Vol. II, he's not the least bit nitpicky about its release. There was no temptation on his part to go in and endlessly tweak the album between sessions. "I was over it a long time ago," Dressman says with a laugh. "I was like, 'Let's get this fucker out.' These songs should have been recorded four years ago. I'm just happy to get it out, get it off my chest and move on to the next thing, which is already turning into something pretty cool." Not surprisingly, in the waiting period to get Vol. II ready for release, Dressman has been writing new material that is hewing closer to the acoustic direction of The Current. In fact, Dressman's new songs are tapping into some of his earliest influences and inspirations. "We're just getting back to what it originally was," Dressman says. "We were a bluesier band; this is more of a Rock album that's a lot darker than our first album. The first album is more of a fun CD. But there are a lot of good songs on this CD and I still love to play them out." The problem with playing the Vol. II songs out at this point is that Dressman (with and without the S.U.N.) has regular, repeating bookings during the week in venues that aren't necessarily conducive to the volume and chaos of an electric Rock band. "Those songs get neglected by not playing them out as much," Dressman says. "And the electric songs don't sound right acoustically. If I'm going to play a Rock song, I want to rock it out." Dressman and the Soul Unified Nation will indeed rock out and turn up for this week's show celebrating the release of Vol. II. The band will perform mostly electric, but with some acoustic moments as well as a few of the new songs that have not yet been shaped in the studio. "The show's going to be electric and we'll fill it in with some acoustic songs," Dressman says. "It's going to be the best of both worlds, I guess. It'll be half and half, and maybe some new ones that will be on the next one." From his teenage Punk beginnings in Fort Mitchell, Ky., and high school songwriting experience to his years balancing gigs with college and living out of his car, Dressman has been ruled by a duality of muses. There's the Pearl Jam/Raconteurs/Black Keys/Wolfmother vibe that informed Vol. II, in addition to the acoustic Folk/Blues/Soul influences that have run through everything he's done, electric or otherwise. But as far as inspirations for the subjects of his songs, Dressman finds the spark of songwriting within and beyond himself. "It seems like there's a lot of frustration in some of the songs, some relationship stuff, a couple of political songs, letters to our oh-so-great government telling them to realize why they're there," Dressman says. "A lot of the songs I don't even remember writing the words, and they kind of change meaning as time goes on. Some of the songs, I didn't even know what they were about. They just came out, and I make up new meanings for them every time I listen to them." ©
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