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   Wednesday, June 12, 2002  
"The seven tracks on Play Karen and Others are probably the best post-Pleased to Meet Me Replacements songs Paul Westerberg never wrote," says Splendid today. Don't know about anyone else but reallyrather is losing count of the number of reviews containing that reference (or close variations thereof). This week's replacement Replacements are the aforementioned The Trouble With Sweeney...

It's that man again! "Imagine Skip Spence and the Soggy Bottom Boys hitting a bong the size of a Hoover then wrapping their impaired senses around the weirdest, saddest songs Paul Westerberg never showed anyone," said Nashville Scene; "hillbilly Velvet Underground," was Nashville Rage's stab; "stoner incantations worthy of The Beta Band," was another. All were grappling with the sounds to be found on The Leaper's Fork, the debut release of Starlings,TN which has joined reallyrather's (worryingly short) shortlist of the year's best.
Is alt-bluegrass a genre? Must confess reallyrather's frame of reference vis-a-vis the music of the mountains is not wide but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to find this Nashville trio's leftfield approach putting a few purists to flight. In much the same spirit as the Be Good Tanyas' playing fast and loose with the Appalachian sound on the gorgeous Blue horse, Starlings,TN wield their dulcimers, mandolins, dulcimers, banjos, accordians and have I mentioned dulcimers? in ways that manage to sound both trad and distinctively, thrillingly contemporary. And like Blue horse it's a mostly successful mix of ye olde and the new.
The first in a sequence of five Steve Stubblefield originals, 'Kids in Philly'-era Marah meets Spiritualized might (but only might) describe the way That girl of mine bowls in to open proceedings; the guy sounds like a huskier, distinctly less urgent Dave Bielanko. Karma tar is in much the same vein; the courtly step of My daddy was a preacher blossoms gloriously and great harmonies soar over rhythmic pickin' 'n' strummin' on Hey little birdie. All the while there's the background drone of (I guess) a bowed electric dulcimer giving the whole thing a spacey levitation.
Recorded using only a 4-track, the sound is amazingly full. The keening vocal on Sarah is prime Everlys and preceeds a run of traditionals, best of which are the stirring bluegrass gospel of Nothing but the blood of Jesus and crowd-pleasing thigh-slapper Whiskey before breakfast. (Ozzy rocked the Palace for QEII; this would've filled the floor at the court of Elizabeth I!)
A certain 'Josh Rouse' is thanked in the sleevenotes and Little things, the only cut with a rhythm track & bass, sounds a bit like something that might've missed the cut for Under cold blue stars (it also sounds like, 'Hmm, we'd better cut one for radio'). Apparently the band are looking to get another album out this year. "That first was really us just finding our feet," TJ Larkin told the Houston Press. "With this next one, we're really off and running. We're really closing in on something. What it is, I have no idea, but it's definitely something."
Most definitely.

West Country acoustic popsters Thomson released their Poptones debut single last week. "It’s a mish mash of Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Beach Boys harmonies..tuneful, interesting and obscure, the sort of record that GLR used to play," said one who's heard it. Er, no change there then...
   posted by SMc at 11:16 AM |