While they've never been as well-known as scene compatriots like Georgia's Drive-By Truckers or Memphis' Lucero, the Murfreesboro-born Glossary belong in that company as a long-standing Southern-rock institution that brings their own kind of character, soul, and musicality to the sub-genre.
Glossary returns to Memphis this week touring behind their fine new album, Long Live All of Us, an R&B-influenced collection that features horn arrangements from Memphian Jim Spake and performances from Spake (sax) and fellow Memphian Nahshon Benford. This is only the latest in a long line of Memphis connections for the band and derives from the band's relationship with Lucero, which now claims Spake as a member and which has also had Benford aboard on tours. Glossary guitarist and sometime-singer Todd Beene moonlights as Lucero's steel guitar player.
Singer/guitarist Joey Kneiser and bassist Bingham Barnes are the lone remaining original members of a group that began as a college band at Middle Tennessee State University some 15 years ago. The initial lineup recorded two albums, but then after graduation, the other members "decided to move on and become grown-ups, and me and [Barnes] weren't really into that," Kneiser says with a chuckle, speaking by phone from Milwaukee before the band departs for an Illinois tour-stop alongside Lucero.
The core of the current band came together with 2003's How We Handle Our Midnights, with Beene and singer Kelly Smith (Kneiser's future and now ex- wife, who now goes by Kelly Kneiser) joining Kneiser and Bingham. (Current drummer Eric Giles joined circa 2009's Feral Fire.)
"We've been trying to find a booking agent for 10 years," Kneiser says when asked about the band's longevity. "Everybody has jobs. We organize runs whenever we can. We're just a bunch of people who love music. But really, I think everyone [in the band] is a fan of the band. We're super close. We're still extremely excited to play together. Everyone is a fan of each other."
Joey and Kelly Kneiser divorced sometime between the recording and release of Feral Fire, making Long Live All of Us the band's first album recorded after the split. But while perseverance and healing are album themes, the songs don't deal with the breakup in any direct or unmistakable way. Kneiser says keeping the band together wasn't an issue. A good thing for Glossary fans, since the vocal interplay of the duo is as much a band trademark as anything.
"We never made much of a deal about it," Kneiser says. "We're still best friends. When we started telling people, they felt more awkward about it than we did. So we sort of decided to do the Jack White and Meg White thing — let people think what they want. We did the grown-up thing of letting something dissolve, but our friendship and devotion to each other was unchanging. I think singing with Kelly is one of my favorite things to do on the planet, so I wasn't going to jeopardize that.
The soul feel of Long Live All of Us — most prominent on slow-burners like "Nothing Can Keep Me Away," "Under a Barking Moon," and "Some Eternal Spark" — was an easy transition for a band that's always had more space and movement in their sound than most on their scene.
"The R&B-ish thing started on [2007's] The Better Angels of Our Nature," Kneiser says. "We wanted to have more groove and rhythm but still with the same kind of songs. But it's always been one of our things. The only real way to be a band and have any success is to be a live band, and the best way to win an audience over, even if they don't dance, is to make them want to."
Mixing classic-rock guitars with classic-soul lilt, Long Live All of Us, as the title might indicate, is an album of gentle succor. It's not an end-zone dance, but the tone is one of hard-won contentment.
"The real key was we wanted to make a positive record," Kneiser says, "not something apathetic or cynical. When we wrote it, it felt like a rough period for a lot of people, especially in the South. Positivity used to be a real trademark of rock-and-roll. And now it isn't as cool to do."
The album also has a reflective tone. It's interesting to listen to a song like "When We Were Wicked" in relation to the first album made by this version of Glossary, How We Handle Our Midnights. That album, made nearly a decade ago, was one where the genre's latent romantic rootlessness was pinned down by a very post-collegiate specificity: newly minted adults working on their night moves along vagabond highways connecting small towns to small cities, trying to figure out what's next.
"When We Were Wicked" looks back on those days with the hindsight of experience: "Four bands at a house show/On a three band bill/Five dollars got you in here/Now George Dickel's gonna make you feel" leading to "So come on out/I know we're older now/But I've still got the fire in me."
Surprisingly, the song was inspired by memories of youth even older than Kneiser's own.
"Right when my grandma died, she told me a story of when she was a teenager and would go out raising hell with her friends," Kneiser remembers. "She prefaced the story with 'When we were wicked,' and I thought that was just great. I stayed in music, so I still experience that stuff all the time. But a lot of the people I know who were huge into music and had to move away from it still romanticize that."
Glossary, with the Memphis Dawls
Tuesday, August 7th
8 p.m.; $7