Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns debut their new album at the House of Blues, then R. Scully's Rough 7 do the same at d.b.a.
Rough 7's Codebreaker is almost the story of two albums. Seven songs date back to 2004 when Ryan Scully recorded his self-titled alt-country (when such a thing existed) album. The songs weren't finished because he ran out of time and money and came to be known as "the rough seven." The death of Michael Aaron, who played lead guitar on those tracks, prompted to Scully to revisit them and remix them with producer John Porter. The rest of the album features the current Rough 7 band, and while they're generally rowdier than the 2004 songs, they're more or less of a piece.
Those 2004 tracks often present a quieter, gentler Scully, with his voice ragged and hushed as he sorts through relationships with a broad emotional palate - even romantic hope. "What your life lacks in length / we can make up height," he sings. "What that height lacks in length / we will make up tonight." A tinge of melancholy underlies much of Codebreaker, but it's not the album's dominant mode. It's balanced by songs like "New Kind of Love," which envisions a hearty, battle-ready love that can withstand self-inflicted damage. Love is complicated. In Codebreaker's poppiest moment, Scully sings that he can fix everything but a broken heart, and in "Do it Twice," he sings "you're so nice" to a woman who won't let him say it.
"'Bove the Clouds" puts all those songs in perspective as it presents the R. Scully version of domesticity. As he recounts a night that got out of control and his efforts to make a flight with his family the next morning, there's not a moment in the tall tale when it sounds like he'd do anything differently, particularly where the family is concerned. They might up the consequences for his misadventures, but there's more peace and stability in the song's mad chase than there is in all the simpler songs of love and loss.
Part of me wishes that the current Rough 7, including Meschiya Lake, Ratty Scurvics and Rob Cambre - played a bigger role on Codebreaker, but I liked Scully's 2004 album just fine, and it's hard to hear how others would have made the songs from that session better. It's also more coherent than you might expect. If anything, the years between just give Scully's songs scope and depth.
R. Scully's Rough 7 play a CD-release party Friday night at d.b.a.
On Fooler's Gold, Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns perform the harder-than-it-sounds trick of translating Frenchmen Street to the home listening experience. Too often, bands cut albums that sound like their live shows minus the crowd, dancers, beer, booze and vibe. With the ambient elements cut away, some crowd-pleasing bands sound sub-par, more energetic than musical. Here, the band swings with ease and assurance, letting the ensemble performances speak for the individual players.
Lake isn't a chameleon on Fooler's Gold - her voice is recognizably hers throughout - but she like an actress she chooses her relationship to the song's story. She sings Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" with an ironic sweetness diametrically opposed to the luxurious earthiness she employs on the randy "Organ Grinder" before it. She sounds dreamily intoxicated on "The Fragrance of Your Charms," and wiser-for-the-effort on the title track. Her choices are intelligent throughout. As she sings Bessie Smith's "Young Woman Blues," you can hear Lake let her halo slide off in the second verse as the song celebrates a life led less than angelically.
So far, the tracks I've returned to are the band's originals, partly because some the standards are familiar from the live show or previous recordings, but also because the members are adept at adapting that musical and lyrical vocabulary to their identity. Ben Polcer's "Don't Start with Me" sounds like it could have been written 60 to 70 years ago, but you hear a drama that is going on nightly and know the people who are involved.
For me, the only weak spot is the cover of Mac Davis' "I Believe in Music." The arrangement is surprising, and Lake invests as much truth in the lyrics as she can muster, but the thought was too general and commonplace in 1971 when Davis released the song. It hasn't deepened with age, but I can imagine those with higher thresholds for kitsch and affirmations will find it one of their favorite songs on Fooler's Gold.
Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns will play a CD-release party at the House of Blues Saturday.