American Blues, The Star Killers, (Fly The Light)
The Star Killers are a relatively new Memphis band that has been making waves of late thanks to its powerful live show and a dedicated fan base. Back in March, the Star Killers unveiled this solid debut LP, American Blues, and the band's profile has continued to rise on its strength ever since.
The record opens with the gorgeous, mostly acoustic track "Dallas," setting a tone for things to come — solid melody, intense musical dynamics, and heavy emotional content. And though the band cites "blues-inspired indie rock" as its genre, the more obvious touchstone is mid-'90s emo/indie-rock similar to groups like Sunny Day Real Estate, Jimmy Eat World, and Jejune.
American Blues stumbles a bit here and there when it strays from the emo/indie formula, as it does on the slightly out-of-character (and apparent Old 97's lift) "Love Song Blues," but succeeds more often than not. Highlights include washed-out mid-tempo rockers like "Call It Quits," "Vertical Cities," and "Cancer Is My Best Friend." Grade: B+
LovelandDuren is the latest project from Memphis power-pop cult figure and singer-songwriter Van Duren, who is still probably best known for his great 1977 debut record Are You Serious?, as well as his work in the 1980s with the new wave-ish pop group Good Question. Here, Duren is joined by fellow local singer-songwriter Vicki Loveland. The duo's collaborative debut, BloodyCupid, is a slickly polished affair, sometimes a bit overly so. But Duren remains a master craftsman of McCartney-esque pop hooks, and the songs where his voice dominates — "Line in the Sand," "Private Sky," and "There Goes the Floor," for instance — truly shine the brightest on this collection.
My principal complaints, all production-nerd nit-picking aside, are that Loveland — a genuinely gifted vocalist, without a doubt — occasionally over-sings a tad as a lead vocalist and that a few of the songs venture into a rootsier territory that doesn't quite work for me. But the album definitely has its moments, thanks to Duren's undeniable pop chops and both performers' skill with vocal harmony. Grade: B
"Sainte Marie" b/w "Pe-Paw"
Every once in a while, a band seemingly comes out of nowhere, and such is the case (at least for me) with Hartle Road. I had never heard anything from or about the North Mississippi indie-rock quartet when I found the group's debut single in the bins of my local record shop. But its charmingly handwritten label and home-made promotional poster in the window made me curious enough to give it a chance, and now I'm glad that I did.
On both sides of the 45, which was tastefully produced at Bruce Watson's (Fat Possum Records) Dial Back Sound studio in Water Valley, Mississippi, by Matt Patton, the group comes off a bit like the early, pre-disco Bee Gees or post-Don Kirshner Monkees — simple, lightly somber pop songs with occasional psychedelic touches. In particular, the chorus on the A-side, "Sainte Marie," just screams to be sung by a Gibb brother — in the best possible way. I look forward to hearing more from these guys in the near future. Grade: A-
The Memphis Dawls, (self-released)
As their burgeoning career continues to develop, the Memphis Dawls just keep getting better and better, not only in terms of songwriting maturity and confidence within their chosen musical style (throwback country/folk) but especially when it comes to vocal interplay between the group's primary trio of guitarist Holly Cole, cellist Jana Misener, and multi-instrumentalist Krista Wroten.
The upward trend continues on the Dawls' latest two-song single, named for the epic ballad on side B, "Starting Gate." But for my money, the more upbeat, countrified A-side, "Where'd You Go My Love," is the real gem of the pair, if only because it's just a bit more fun. Both cuts are winners, though, and both were beautifully produced and cut to vinyl by local recording ace Jeff Powell (the Afghan Whigs, Big Star) to boot. Grade: A-