REVIEWS BY MIKE BREEN
· THE SLOES — DESPERATE TRAIN
Calling themselves a "progressive acoustic" band, The Sloes are a versatile three-piece specializing in (but not limited to) Americana stylings with the occasional World Beat undercurrent. The band's 10-song debut, Desperate Train, is somewhat sparsely arranged, but the minimalism is filled up by the trio's lively, passionate performances. Though built largely around the boundary-ignoring, melodically-solid songwriting of singer/guitarist Rick Lisak, multi-instrumentalist Scott Carnder (who provides inspired bass lines as well as mandolin and bouzouki) and drummer Stan Ginn (who offers a variety of dynamic percussion sounds) are crucial to the album's warm glide and organic grace (a slew of guests provide strings and lap steel support to great effect).
The trio's debut elegantly rides the rails through shuffling Roots Rock (the title track); Bluegrass-flavored Folk Rock ("Desperate Times"); folksy, winsome balladeering ("Letting Go"); wispy, crooning Jazz ("Winter Into Spring"); and hooky, emotive Pop ("Don't Turn Your Back"). Elsewhere, they toy with undulating Latin ambiance ("There Was A Time") and Middle Eastern Rock (on the blissfully strange cover of "Paint It Black"), while the circular mandolin riffing, "Billie Jean" bass riff and off-kilter melodic leaps of "ClickTrack" result in the album's most unique moment. "Felt the Sun" is another highlight, a gentle slither of Folk Pop that climaxes with some sunrise harmonies so gorgeous and meticulous, The Beach Boys would be jealous.
Desperate Train's fusion of tranquil Folk and more exploratory Roots music adventures makes it an album full of subtle surprises, tied together by writing that is admirable in its creativity but also traditional enough to appeal to open-minded purists.
· STORY — STORY
Not that I have much evidence, but I would imagine that most tribute bands (groups that perform "as" a classic band) that start writing their own songs will have more than a little in common with the artists to whom they pay homage. The Reason, the world's greatest Hoobastank cover band, for example, isn't going to start writing original Death Metal songs. When the tributee is a band like The Beatles, whose influence is arguably the broadest in popular musical history, the chances of a good result increase significantly.
The quartet Story is the original band incarnation of BackBeat, a youthful Fab Four tribute act that already has veteran status (the group appeared on Rosie O'Donnell's talk show when they were all 14 and younger). Story uses its solid Beatlesque foundation (Rickenbackers, inescapable melodies, tight-ass harmonies) as a starting point, but the group's sophisticated Pop songs usually aren't any more indebted to John, Paul, George and Ringo than any other Pop/Rock band in the universe.
The band's eight-song disc is a thoroughly strong effort, crisply produced, devoid of gimmicks and infused with as many strong, classic hooks as a Fountains of Wayne record. Highlights include the irresistibly catchy "Filthy Rich," "Molly," which sounds like a sleeker Grant Hart Hüsker Dü song with its towering chorus and grittier vocals, and "Dancer," the disc's most Beatles-y track (in an ELO kind of way), with its sublime harmonica riffing, George-like guitar solo and gleeful rhythmic bounce. The only trace of the group's youthfulness comes in the lyrics, which aren't quite as developed as the band's songwriting and musical ability. But "Love Me Do" wasn't exactly treading on Bob Dylan's turf either.
This album is not only impressive for a band whose oldest member is just old enough to drink and whose youngest member is just old enough to drive; this would have been a remarkable debut for anyone. Learning about music by getting intimate with The Beatles catalog has served this four-piece well. It's almost scary to think about how good they will become. Their debut already raises the bar pretty high.