Friday, February 13, 2004
"Tangled in the Pines"
With a band like BR549, expectations for quality precede listening. The Lawrence-rooted, Nashville-bred band (lead singer Chuck Mead grew up in Lawrence and cut his teeth with The Homestead Grays) has been recognized as one of the top neo-traditionalist country acts for the better part of a decade. Besides touring with the likes of Bob Dylan and Tim McGraw, BR549 has been nominated for Grammys and deemed "Nashville's hippest band" by Playboy.
That said, "Tangled in the Pines" is even better than one might expect. The group's fifth full-length finds its players in peak form, cutting all of the tracks live without batting a road-weary eyelash. Themes of progress and journeying permeate frontman Chuck Mead's lyrics; fitting subjects considering the band has two new members and last put out a full-length in June 2001. Overall, it's a very upbeat album, forsaking tear-in-your-beer ballads in favor of roadhouse-style romps and fiddle-centric country.
In BR549's country lexicon, Chuck Berry is every bit as present as Hank Sr., and that translates to more dirty guitar solos and attitude than typical country fare. The album sounds like a late-night whoopfest at Robert's Western Wear shop, where the band first made a name for itself on the legendary Nashville strip.
The band takes advantage of its multiplicity of talented vocalists, stacking harmonies three-strong and trading leads. Mead carries standout tracks like "I'm All Right (For the Shape I'm In)" with his tender-yet-seasoned drawl, but new guitarist Chris Scruggs (yes, as in the grandson of banjo great Earl Scruggs) enlivens "Honky Tonkin' Lifestyle" with his Roger Miller-esque crooning.
Multi-instrumentalist Don Herron, however, is the real ace up the band's sleeve, contributing tasty fiddle and steel guitar licks. Bassist Geoff Firebaugh also injects some doghouse thump into sizzlers like "Way Too Late (To Go Home Early Now)."
For an old-school country band, the best way to sound fresh is to sound familiar. In that department, BR549 delivers the goods and then some.
This Building Is Cursed
That should be the motto for This Building Is Cursed's first official release, a six-song EP titled "Demographic." Forward progress -- as in metal and noisecore diehards evolving and trying out new ideas, discovering the delights of melody and dynamics and daring to dwell in a melting pot of diverse influences.
But forward progress is also the word of the day for this local band because no song ever returns back from whence it came. Forget about choruses; TBIC doesn't have them. And the members don't sing either.
Instead, TBIC's songs play out like stoned jam sessions amongst a bunch of friends who all like metal but aren't really sure what type of metal. There are elements of KC and Lawrence hardcore -- Coalesce and The Esoteric -- thrown in, but there also seems to be a fondness for more melody-conscious bands like Hum or Cave In.
Thus, songs that begin with fingerpicked acoustic guitar a la Metallica are sure to also include a Sabbath-esque sludge-rock breakdown and a weird prog-rock bridge in a 'what the hell?' time signature. It's like each musician came up with a cool part and then the band found a way to piece them all together.
For awhile, the formula works. The parts are actually intricate and ear-catching, and the creative process of composing them spills out through the speakers and conjures images of a great live show.
But after three or four songs, something feels lacking. For this reviewer's tastes, that something is probably vocals. For others, it may be the requisite level of musical virtuosity required to keep a listener's attention when there are no vocals and no repeating hooks. In TBIC's case, that level is high but maybe not high enough.
Still, there are many qualities which make "Demographic" worthwhile, such as a stellar-sounding recording and sleek packaging. All in all, TBIC has produced a quality product with a unique musical vision.