By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
A certain dulling of the critical faculties begins to occur in those who wander Local Band Hell overmuch: You stop holding out for quality and begin to settle for everybody starting and stopping at the same time, then for just being in tune, and finally for things that don't suck quite as much as you'd thought they would.
Pawn Shop From Heaven is a nice corrective for that creeping ennui, a reminder that albums (and/or bands) can have qualities other than clarity, production, or not sucking. Primarily the vehicle for singer/songwriter Reed Easterwood--but still very much a band in the organic sense--Junky Southern has produced a debut that crosses post-pop American rock with an abiding love for British masters like the Beatles and Squeeze.
The result is a well-produced album whose songs exist as whole entities, particularly in the feelings or moods they evoke. There's no distance between lyrics and music; in fact, by reading the lyric sheet you might well be struck by how clumsy (a critic who's having a bad day might disqualify an entire album on the basis of one "Pungent pagan princess") and deliberately obtuse the wordplay seems--at least until you hear the songs. Then, the words and music achieve a synergy that binds them together.
Easterwood has a good ear for hooks, free of that strained sense of "hey, this is the best we can do, man!" that cripples many indie projects. Little daubs of sonic Americana--mandolin, pedal steel, banjo--are applied from time to time to a mix whose rocking qualities can't quite overcome a persistent sense of melancholy and distance.
Cold Blue Steel
Headed Out of Memphis
Then again, it's remarkable just how little being in tune, starting and stopping at the same time, and not sucking can sometimes add up to. Cold Blue Steel can be great when you're dancing the night away to the band's roadhouse blues-boogie, flirting and carousing and falling over chairs--i.e., not paying a whole lot of attention--but the group's albums can be flatter than day-old Coors Light and do not hold up well under a more concentrated listen.
Headed Out of Memphis contains recycled material enough to qualify Cold Blue Steel as Earth First!'s house band, and what the hell is with the constant references to Harley-Davidsons sprinkled throughout the lyrics? Product placement? Unfortunately trite personal obsession? Whatever. The most forcefully made point of Memphis is that doing your own material doesn't automatically keep you from coming off like a cover band.