John J. McCauley III (Deer Tick), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), and Matt Vasquez (Delta Spirit) found a little touch of something special touring together with their respective bands the past few years. It brought them together for an old fashioned folk-n-roll hootenanny, ‘Middle Brother.’
I had a few judgmental doubts before the first few spins of Middle Brother‘s debut based on previous listens to each band’s individual output. Deer Tick on record comes across as part great, part lost, and part whiny- minus wrinkles and miles. Delta Spirit hasn’t had enough venom to keep my attention after 2 records, though they make for nice, easy listening. Dawes released a solid, soulful record and an even better Daytrotter session (the first one) that proved their live muscles, but there’s something very (um) beer bong about them I can’t quite get through when listening to them; something greasy, Henley-esque. Maybe it’s all in my head but 2/3 bands just didn’t do me right after many, many repeat listens.
I figured out what it was causing these aural discrepencies and it’s simple, it’s California. Style instead of substance seems to thread through many records coming out of the Californian, 70s inspired, Laurel Canyon folk rock scene that trips up these midwestern ears after 6-7 listens. Maybe it’s demographic but I know these sentiments are shared by other snobs. To say I had apprehensions going into Middle Brother is a giant understatement. Instead I trusted the 33% of me that said, McCauley’s from Rhode Island and toured with Titus Andronicus- so, let’s see here…
With that math in mind I discovered this record shouldn’t be disregarded as a toss off on songs by either of these songwriters. These aren’t B-Sides they’re throwing at us either. Tongue in cheek, they include a cover song, a Replacements b-side, dead center in the track list to remind indie snobs (me) that it’s about having fun as much as paying respects to great lost songs by great writers like Paul Westerberg that influenced Middle Brother’s hootenanny spirit.
Hearing Westerberg’s Portland sung by McCauley didn’t sell it for me though, it’s the foot drum that does it. An incredible heartbeat on this performance that gives emotional weight to a song that Westerberg’s original recording from the Don’t Tell a Soul sessions lacked. Road weary & contemplative about love lost (or lusted for) threads the three songwriters together on this debut. There’s an easy, care-free confidence that binds these songs together so well that keeps them from being just another indie supergroup release.
The triple harmony oooo nod to early Beatles songs on the title track; and to the other Minneapolis powerhouse of harmony & songwriting, Olson & Louris of The Jayhawks, on the rockier Blue Eyes. The nods are simple, nothing we haven’t heard before, but they’re well done which is accredited to classic pop songwriting by all three composers. It’s as if they saved the best songs and performances for each other to enjoy with us. Their other bands should be warned now; this is the best thing they didn’t get a chance to make.
Maybe this record isn’t a surprise for some of you; but for those in doubt like I was with Middle Brother, put your faith in math if you’re unsure. The final results were unexpected making this indie supergroup’s debut one of 2011’s most unexpected surprise listens so far.