Due to recent relocations, I’m now the member of the 3Hive crew who’s keepin’ it real in the Dirrrty South. Yet, as it was in New York City with calling myself a “New Yorker,” I imagine it will take at least a few years before I’ll come close to calling myself a “Southernor.” And I imagine that for my friends, family, and neighbors down here, calling me a “Southernor” just ain’t gonna happen while I’m above ground. The Force runs deeply with Charlestonians. Anyhow, Barton Carroll is helping out the transition quite nicely. I’m not sure where he’s from, but Carroll is on the Birmingham, Alabama label Skybucket, and one of his songs posted here is “Brooklyn Girl, You’re Going to be My Bride,” which, even if it weren’t as optimistic and toe-tappable as it is, would have a special place in my heart because that’s the borough where my wife and I were when we got married. Thankfully, the melancholic “Pretty Girl’s Going to Ruin My Life (Again)” doesn’t have quite the same personal resonance. But with his Roy Orbison-esque falsetto and Buck Owens-esque lyrics like “Hair’s falling out and my back’s got a pain/ I been drinkin’ my Scotch in my truck in the rain/ I think it’s fine way to spend the day,” well, it does sound like a fine way spend the dayâ€”whether in New York, Charleston, or anywhere in-between.
If you’ll excuse the blatantly obvious for a second, one of the awesome things about the Internet is that you don’t have to be in New York, L.A., Chicago, Boston, Austin, or one of a handful of anointed college scenes to get noticed. Although, no matter where you are, you need a MySpace page come hell or high water. Through the Sparks aren’t in one of the Chosen Townsâ€”they’re in Birmingham, Alabama, which by all accounts has a thriving local scene but probably won’t make any “The next” lists nonetheless. Plus, get this, Through the Sparks record in an actual garage. Howâ€¦quaint. It’s enough to make you regain faith in American music. It also helps that the music itself is easy on the ears: a thinking feller’s mix of guitar and piano rock that’s both down-home and sophisticated. Any inherent Birmingham-ness or Southernness in general you might be looking to place on these polished pop articles will be as elusive as the band’s lyrics are charmingly obtuse. Maybe that’s the other awesome thing about the Internet: you can be from a scene without necessarily being of itâ€”provided you’re on MySpace.
If 13 ghosts weren’t a band but a married couple, the story of how they formed, disbanded, and reunited years later after the original bass player’s funeral would have already made the daytime talk show circuit. So, if anyone from “Oprah” is reading, what are you waiting for?
On to the music… There’s a saying in Michigan, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.” Same could be said of 13 ghosts’ latest, Cicada, which introduces new genres, styles, instruments, formats, etc. every few minutes. However, I’d recommend against skipping ahead. While the album has its clear standout tracks (“Robert J.” among them), you really need to spend all 62 minutes with the album in order to fully appreciate it. Brad Armstrong and Buzz Russell split songwriting duties (which could explain their wandering style) and finish each other’s thoughts like the old friends that they are. Together they build a collaborative narrative — one soaked in beer and nostalgia — that would be a shame to interrupt. The number of “sounds like” comparisons I’ve read in reviews could fill the screen and I’m already running long, so I’ll just say this: enjoy the weather.