When I think of America, I rarely picture the coastal metropolises, those cultural centers choked with anonymous masses, cement, smog and rush hour traffic. Instead, I think of all the small towns far off the interstates. They could be anywhere — Georgia or Texas or Indiana — and at first glance, they may appear to be the same, conservative with hints of the past still lingering in the air. Progress is an import on tap down at the watering hole. The people, as they smile and say good morning to everyone they see, come across as hard-working and pleasant, and their daily lives overlap and interweave in comforting, regulated routine. But below the surface, each town has its own unique personality that reveals itself after some time spent there. Each has its own traditions, mythologies, gossip. Each has its own secrets.
Musically, Hollow Marrow, the debut release from Tampa Bay’s Brahm Bones, is one of those small towns. Upon initial listen, it sounds welcoming in its familiarity, undoubtedly an album that harkens back to the era of the rock record: epic, holistic, meant to be listened through in its entirety. It’s patently not, as most albums these days are, a collection of 99-cent singles meant to be downloaded on the listener’s whim. There are hints of the sonic expansiveness of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, wafts of Dylan’s detached-yet-personal storytelling circa Desire and whispers of John Mellencamp’s dedication to gritty Americana. Brahm Bones lead singer Blake Masters’ voice recalls the down-by-the-train-tracks, world-weary intonations of Two Gallants’ Adam Stephens.
The more time you spend with Hollow Marrow, however, the more its individuality asserts itself. It’s essentially a rock ’n’ roll album made up of pop songs (as Masters refers to them) that becomes something more as it branches out into various other genres. “The Letter,” driven by drummer Paul Moroz’s frenzied two-step beat, could be classified as cowpunk. “Mexico” and “Mobley,” anchored by Tom Murray’s meaty basslines, fit in with the pioneers of ’90s alternative, and David Kibby’s fuzzed-out and soaring riffs give “Nocturnal” a place in the ’70s hard rock pantheon. Yet, with all of this variety and complexity, the album doesn’t feel disjointed; rather, it flows with seeming effortlessness, arranged so that each track ends in a key that complements and segues gracefully into the beginning of the next track. It’s this sort of attention to detail that makes Hollow Marrow rise above and beyond.
These collection of songs touching on separation, redemption and longing were written over the course of several years, from the time of Brahm Bones’ inception around 2007 and onward. The band took over Short Circuit studios in Seminole Heights to record it, practically living there for nearly a year so they could get everything down perfectly. Refusing to rely on midi effects, they hunted down a real B3 organ for keyboardist Matt E. Lee to play on “Dust.” There’s a washboard crackling during the rambunctious “In the Way.” Layered backing harmonies, vibraphone, trumpet and lap steel — all played by friends of the band — round out the Brahm Bones sound.
Hollow Marrow is an album that begs for repeat plays and constant exploration. Just like with a small town, its satisfaction comes from venturing down those back roads, getting to know the lay of the land, digging into those overlooked nooks and crannies, and learning the mannerisms, the vernacular and the names of the locals. There’s something surprising and rewarding around every bend.
New World Brewery welcomes Brahm Bones for their official CD release party this Sat., Oct. 13; doors at 9 p.m. The Woolly Bushmen and RedFeather open while Poetry n’ Lotion closes the night’s festivities. Admission is $8.
Great review Leilani! Your Professor Nutbutter donor Steve.
This Gatsby LP is really strong. I dig it, too.
"Not as big." I see what you did there. And I like it.
So very, very well said! This was one of the best shows I have ever…