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The Light Wires offer up a hypnotic dose of heartfelt Roots Rock

Dale M. Johnson

The Light Wires

It's an overcast weeknight on a Northside tavern patio as three members of The Light Wires wait for Jeremy Pinnell to show up. The three — Andy Hittle (guitar), Rick McCarty (drums) and Mike Montgomery (bass) — are getting worried about their elusive frontman's whereabouts.

"I think he's a little nervous," says Montgomery of Pinnell.

"Why? He shouldn't be," says Hittle.

Based on the Wires recently recorded 10-song (so far untitled and unreleased) collection of mesmerizing roots-based creations, Hittle's absolutely right.

The stunning slow-burn desolation of the eighth track (at least on my copy), "Claudia," is a prime example. It opens with a brushed backbeat from McCarty. Pinnell's spare acoustic guitar floats in, followed by Hittle's warm, ringing electric lines and the subtle pulse of Mongtomery's bass. And then The Light Wires not-so-secret weapon, Pinnell's soulful voice, an instrument of rare emotive power, takes over the proceedings to undeniable effect.

Possessing an authentic ache, it (both voice and song, actually) digs deep and doesn't let go.

Speaking of that voice, after a second round of beers, a mesh baseball cap-clad Pinnell finally makes his way to the table, and the brief history of The Light Wires begins.

It's the summer of 2002, and a solo Pinnell has a large cache of songs waiting to be discovered. Montgomery, who had worked with Pinnell and his former band, Ladderday, at Covington's Backstage Studios, offers to lend his multi-instrumental skills to help flesh out the songs.

"I liked his voice, and I thought his songs were great," says Montgomery.

Soon after, McCarty (who plays with Montgomery in Thistle, El Gigante and Ampline) and Hittle (also of El Gigante) are asked to join the fold.

"There's a more laid-back vibe than the other bands I play in," says McCarty. "The songs kind of insist that I exhibit more control, feel and patience with them. There is a lot more space in the songs, and I don't even necessarily try to fill that space, just add some cool things to it."

"We try not to get in the way of the songs ... his songs are so honest. We just try to allow that to come through," Hittle says, which finally yields a response from the man who birthed them.

"Thanks guys, I'm glad I came," says Pinnell without a trace of irony.

Following a discussion of the band's plans for the recorded disc — barring interest from larger labels, they intend to release the record on Montgomery and McCarty's own Tiberius Records this fall — we evacuate the patio to elude an oncoming rain.

A few days later I phone Pinnell, this time intent on digging deeper. I ask him about his straightforward, first-person narratives, which lacerate using the sparest of imagery.

"That's really what I know about," he says of the songs' personal elements. "I know about fucking up, and shit like that. I guess that's what all the (songwriting) energy goes toward. I really don't know how to explain it. It's personal, but I think people relate to that more. I really like having people get a nervous or weird feeling from it (the songs), because it's basically my life, and it's their life, too. It's a really good feeling to know that you've gotten something across to somebody."

About the songs' brief nature (only one of the 10 tracks makes it to the four minute mark), Pinnell again keeps things simple and to the point.

"Yeah, uh, that's just the way they turn out ... I don't know. I write and when I feel like I'm finished, that's it. I write 'til the song's done."

The Light Wires appear to have a firm grasp on Americana and its deep musical heritage. But that's not necessarily true in Pinnell's case.

"I grew up in a Christian home, so we weren't allowed to listen to secular music," he says. "So it (exposure to popular music) was really kinda on and off. I'd get a hold of my Heavy D tapes, and then they'd get taken. Stuff like that. Just kid's stuff, you know. Then I got more into Punk Rock, and that's when I was getting older and I was able to do more of what I wanted."

Yet, sonically at least, The Light Wires are light years away from Punk.

"I feel really comfortable with my acoustic guitar," says Pinnell. "I just like to keep it as honest as possible. When I'm playing, I feel like that's the only time I'm telling the truth. Punk Rock is kinda similar: It's simple and straight to the point, and pretty heartfelt if you listen to the right bands.

"I guess maybe that's why my songs are short, too."

THE LIGHT WIRES play Jammin' on Main's Skyline Chili Stage at 7:10 p.m. Friday.

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