Rising from the ashes of numerous local band fires, The Sunday Blues came to realize early on that if they were going to create and play music, they would have to do it on their own terms.
Vocalist/guitarist Keith McCarthy logged countless hours with blue-collar kings Maybe Pete, as well as a sideman for Rick Barry, Arlan Feiles and others before teaming up with vocalist/guitarist Lindsey Miller. Miller was best known for her founding role in the Americana band Divine Sign, a group that was popular on the circuit for several years. The two pooled influential ideas, writing new music and deciding that it was time to do things the way they pictured them instead of backing someone else’s vision. The addition of Andrew Clellend on bass put them on a course that has led to their very first band effort, City Folklore.
The feel of City Folklore is one of freedom and rebellion. McCarthy, who was always an unbridled guitarist, kept under the thumb of a bandleader with other priorities and is unstoppable as an arranger and a player on this album. Miller (one of the two songwriters) and Clellend had also become disenfranchised with their previous roles, making their enthusiastic contributions perfect for their declaration of independence.
This record is filled with the vibe of kids in a candy store. While I understand that every record takes much hard work, musicians and producers unite on City Folklore, unabashedly mixing influential favorites and styles with an engineering kaleidoscope of summer day sounds. Make no mistake about it: The Sunday Blues made sure that this would be a guitar lover’s record. Recorded and engineered by Kevin J. McMahon, Jr., the disc also boasts the Americana savvy assist of Arlen Feiles as co-producer.
I think I should also point out that this disc has been a few years in the making. Some of the songs have been played live for quite a while, and it’s nice to see that instead of ending up on the cutting room floor just because they’re older, they’ve been included and are available for long-term fans, as well as new listeners.
The first song on the album is the honky-tonk attitude of “The Overflow.” Keith McCarthy handles lead vocal duties as Miller sidles up into the chorus’ harmony before clearing the path for truck stop Telecaster bends and rumbling, chicken pickin’ runs. If you’re a fan of Gram Parsons’ early work with The Byrds on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, you’ll love this twangy exploration of karmic backwoods destination.
“Jokes On You” demonstrates the band’s classic rock roots from the get-go. Miller handles vocals on this radio-friendly cut and her influential Christine McVie form is seamless. Her mix of melodic harmony tone and lead vocal doubling makes this track rich and luxurious. McCarthy twists through the middle meter on some extremely unique banjo and electric guitar work. Utilizing a combination of Larry Campbell-style runs, McCarthy pulls out chopped rhythms and double stops before slipping into a middle eight of harmony lead work. He finishes up by kicking in the front door with a series of Gary Rossington lead bends. McCarthy is definitely having a good time on this disc, and he’s just about ripping the strings right off the neck at one point, which I honestly enjoyed. Andrew Clellend is a talented bassist and he nails down the low end while an unidentified guest drummer (Johnny Macko or Kevin J. McMahon, Jr.) bounces between light verse work and solid four on the floor chorus support.
“You’re Breakin’ Me” continues the band’s 1970s-influenced country journey as it rolls out on a snare hit and a whole set of Charlie Rich piano chords. McCarthy’s rock and roll vocal snarl is framed by a myriad of glimmering electric guitars that explode and wash over the top of succinct bass and drums. Miller smoothes out the harmony top on the choruses as chimey six-string chords fill out the verse bridges. The middle eight pops into the track hanging in midair as McCarthy and Miller take a Beatles side tour dive into minor-fueled fields forever. Harmonica work wails Crazy Horse rich as McCarthy and crew put the pedal down on this stately number.
“Four In The Morning” and “Brand New Lower Place” are pure cry in your beer anthems. Miller and McCarthy both take lead vocal turns on their quest for love, scorn and redemption. The two singers harmonize amazingly well considering their voices are as different as night and day, but that’s the magic of their sound. McCarthy utilizes two different but similar country intros that I got a kick out of on these songs. Hey, don’t fix what ain’t broken.
“Any Good Man” is a slow-rolling dreamer that leads the listener through an intro filled with organic acoustic patterns and country-soaked electric bends. Miller shows her interesting Natalie Merchant/Tanya Tucker side as she takes the lead vocal chore here. McCarthy circles the song, laying out a full spectrum Nashville arsenal and joining with Miller during the choruses. The thing I like about Miller’s singing here is that she always comes across as vulnerable, and her emotional reaction to her lyric is completely believable.
“Love By Numbers” features McCarthy on lap steel as he launches this Tom Petty-vibed rocker. This is one of the songs I would pick for radio airplay, as it possesses all the puzzle pieces for a classic winner. Up-tempo rhythms lock the beat in tight as guitars downstroke dirty, analog gold all over the soundscape. Acoustics clang, melding with bass and drums as McCarthy winds his vocal between stark, reverb-drenched lap steel slides. The verse-ending bridge really elevates the chorus and puts this song high on the visibility meter.
“Miranda” is one of the older songs I mentioned earlier, and it’s a Woodstock waltz that mixes banjo lines and sweet, melodic harmonies with the ethereal vocal of Miller. This is Lindsey’s vehicle on the CD, and she doesn’t disappoint. Her doubled lead lines and superb high harmonies get “Miranda” noticed immediately. The middle eight lead is a single string run that doesn’t waste a note. Straight and to the point, McCarthy makes a statement and gets back under the next verse with a casual flick of a switch.
“Gold Coast” reminds me of the 1969 heyday of The Mamas & The Papas with its big, multi-voiced “California Dreamin’” choruses and broad, acoustic strumming patterns. Handclaps (from everybody) punctuate this dynamically isolated ode to “Strangers In The Night.” The George Harrison-style of the harmony slide work takes you into electric riff rolls before putting you right into the last salvo of easy, breezy choruses.
The last song on the disc is one of their better-known songs. “Tinted Windows” has all the character of that West Coast sound perfected by bands such as The Eagles. Laid-back acoustics strum on top of liquid bass and brushed drums. Pianos sparkle deep in the stereo field as McCarthy is back for another lonely slide run on lap steel. McCarthy and Miller intertwine, layering harmonica lines and harmonies over the eternal question of “Where did our love go?” This is yet another top pick that should get them noticed by those radio rapscallions.
City Folklore is a fine representation of a band stepping out on their own influential journey, and with the exception of a couple of tunes that fall into standard fare territory, The Sunday Blues have a record that should bring new fans to the fold and make every day of the week one to look forward to when listening to this album. For more information on The Sunday Blues and City Folklore, go visit them at facebook.com/thesundayblues.