Back in the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth, a strange new phenomena known as the “supergroup” arose. The prime example of a supergroup, perhaps the very first one, was the band Blind Faith, which combined the talents of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech. The problem with supergroups however is that there are often superegos to go with them. Perhaps that’s why, in terms of albums, Blind Faith was one and done.
Not long after that, along came Crosby, Stills, and Nash, boasting a lineup comprised of a former Byrd, an ex-Buffalo Springfield, and a one-time Hollie. They upped the ante stratospherically, and added immeasurable volatility when they added Neil Young to the lineup for their second album, Deja Vu. Somehow, more than 30 years later, the old guys still get together once in awhile.
Those were the superest of supergroups, and although musicians from separate bands still get together, their output is usually referred to as a “side project.” Not exactly as powerful a description as “supergroup,” now is it?
When members of three popular young indie bands got together to record an album in Nashville in the fall of 2009, the temptation was to refer to them as a supergroup. It’s derisive, and unfair. Although Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Matthew Vasquez of Delta Spirit, and John McCauley of Deer Tick are all fine songwriters and musicians, it is far too early in their promising careers to cast them as superstars. Hype (it didn’t come from the band) aside, they have collaborated on a fine new self-titled album (Partisan Records) that is far superior to the usual run of the mill side project.
Although there are three unique and distinct voices at work in Middle Brother, they blend together so well that there is little doubt that this is a real band. They have chosen a rootsy, unadorned sound to frame a strong set of songs, lending a raw, emotional component to their appealing take on Americana. The album draws you in from the start with McCauley’s wistful “Daydreaming,” but it’s Goldsmith’s bitter, sardonic “Thanks For Nothing” that grabs you by the heart and won’t let go. Vasquez gets the spotlight for the country ballad “Theater.” Goldsmith’s rueful “Wilderness,” and McCauley’s raging “Me, Me, Me” also stand out. All three members shine on the powerful, harmony-laden closer “Million Dollar Bill.”
I’m torn. Middle Brother is a band with enormous potential. On the other hand, I watched as Dawes knocked out two festival crowds last summer, and I’m convinced that they are quite possibly the best young band in the country. Delta Spirit and Deer Tick have both produced albums that I enjoyed. I’m hoping that somehow Goldsmith, Vasquez, and McCauley have the time to give their all to their home bands, while still finding the time to explore the promise of Middle Brother.
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