It is an unfortunate reality of today’s up-and-coming artists happens that so much development is forced to happen under a microscope. There was a time when collaborations were perhaps more fluid, before identities (or stereotypes) were so crystallized. As they say in The Social Network, the Internet isn’t written in pencil – it’s written in ink. So it’s refreshing when collaborations based on mutual admiration can blossom to fruition, ignoring the magnifying-glass moniker supergroup.
The lead singers of Deer Tick, Delta Spirit, and Dawes got together in Nashville last year with some songs, some friends and little else. The result is a well-curated combination of rockabilly stompers, and forlorn and fatigued ballads.
Early on in the woozy opener “Daydreaming,” there’s a sneaking suspicion Middle Brother’s self-titled debut (March 1, Partisan Records) is not some throwaway side-project. Later in the misty-eyed “Thanks for Nothing” it’s confirmed that the album may be something truly special, markedly closer to CSNY in the supergroup canon than say, the Sebastian Bach/Ted Nugent band from the VH1 show “Supergroup.”
The trio all bring unique talents to the table and they complement each other well. Taylor Goldsmith (of Dawes) owns the most mellifluous vocals and the deftest lyrics. His heartfelt songwriting on “Thanks for Nothing” and “Wilderness” rival any of Dawes’ tenderest moments – and “Blood and Guts” may even best them. The lyrics would border on melodrama (“The older we get, the older we are.”) if it weren’t with sung with such sincerity. The final chorus of “I want to sing with blood and guts, instead I’m singing to you,” is delivered so gutturally, the pain is palpable.
The single “Me, Me, Me” features John McCauley (of Deer Tick) in all his unhinged glory, reveling in debauchery and relishing his deviant dalliances. It is precisely the uncorked enthusiasm noticeably absent from Deer Tick’s Black Dirt Sessions and marks a welcome return to form.
McCauley’s somber singing on the grungy, road-weary “Mom and Dad” harken back to War Elephant’s greatest success. “Mama gave a camera to her little star,” he sings “All she gets is pictures of hotels and bars. No Big Ben, no Statue of Liberty.” It’s a heartbreaking missive from the road. He sounds unhappy but too weak (or drunk) to take action.
The group is at its best, though, when they’re all in on the act. The band’s backing harmonies on the Motown-esque “Someday”, perfectly highlight Matt Vazquez’s (of Delta Spirit) great rock pipes. The trio later trades verses to great effect on the albums final cut, The Band-esque “Million Dollar Bill”.
.But the best track on the album is perhaps not coincidentally the lone song that features more than one songwriter. Title-track “Middle Brother” is equal pats cocksure and cool, a feat considering the lyrics. “I know my days are numbered, but I’m bad at math,” McCauley offers. “I’ve got a dick so hard, that a cat couldn’t scratch.” After the three minute joyride of rollicking choruses, harmonies and foot-stompin’ fun, you can hear McCauley bellow, “We did it, motherfuckers!”
They most certainly did.