Thursday, July 26, 2012

Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray - Between Bakersfield and Outer Space

We're From Here is one of those debut albums that you hear for the first time, scratch your head, smile, and then listen again. It's a 'did I just hear what I thought I heard?' moment - brilliance is like that. Sometimes it takes you a minute to realize that you're in its presence.

I came to this record with a bit of trepidation - I've generally been less than thrilled by much of the alt-country/indie rock that has crossed my path, as the singing is usually out of tune and the instrumentation is something less than inventive or adventurous. Miss Shevaughn dispels my negative notions immediately with a voice that is powerful, pitch perfect, and filled with passion. Her performance on the opening track, Go Hang, is soulful and sultry as she unfolds the tale of a woeful woman who's stayed too long in the wrong place. Her phrasing sounds as if she spent a good bit of time with the soul shouters, jazz queens, and country wailers who established the ground rules for how a woman should sing over fifty years ago. She's not lazy, she doesn't slide by, she hits it head on, and she hits it hard.

Yuma Wray mystifies me - he provides the musical tapestries over which Miss Shevaughn wails, and he combines smooth country bends and slides with shimmering, tremolo chords, then thinks nothing of firing off salvos of Jimmy Page approved shards of jagged howls and power chords. Mi Burro Esta En Fuego follows Shevaughn's opener, and it's an amazing three minutes and forty-six seconds of south of the border guitar bravado that while by no means is technically perfect is perfect none the less. He gets bolder and bolder as the tunes progresses, combining harmonized leads, brutal chord stabs, and melodic statements that suggest, indeed, his burro may just be on fire. OK - take a little Robert Rodriguez soundtrack, add some Neil Young frenzy, throw in a dash of Beck's Bolero, and serve it up with a frentic drum track, and you've got it. Get it?

These two are some kind of empathetic - it's like there's one musical being divided between two bodies. Swirls of steely slides chase the melodies as casually as a walk through a wavy field of flowers on a summer morning. Shevaughn has an amazing set of pipes, and her vibrato is strong and true. Reverberated slide guitars are the silk wrapping of this record, and they give some softness to the chaunteuse's lyrics, which often are less than comforting (much like these times in which we live).

The River Made Me Do It has the marks of an instant classic. It could have been written a hundred and fifty years ago as easily as last year, and the plucked and strummed banjo (just as likely a capo'd guitar) accompaniment is appropriate underpinning until some seriously heavy power chords hijack the proceedings, and announce the tune's second act. It all kind of makes me wish this album had been released in 1969 - Levon Helm and Robbie could have used the competition. World weariness never sounded so hopeful.

Dynamics figure heavy on this disc, and never so much as on the stop/start action between the electric violence and smooth melody of Lost My Way. This sounds like Jefferson Airplane meets Blue Cheer, but it works. The juxtaposition of dark and light flickers repeatedly, but not so much as be jarring - somehow they make it sound very natural. So much so that I keep finding myself smiling at their clever musicality.

Lyrically, this isn't the most pleasant street you're going to find yourself on this summer, but it has the gripping ring of the Truth. Shevaughn is cast in the mold of the classic Southern songcrafters. Her tales sound like she's listened closely to a lot of sad tales, and maybe shared a few of her own.

Morning Is Breaking is a mournful meditation that is driven by a gospel tinged, modulating organ that hangs over the tune like a thunderstorm, only to be interrupted by a very brief, but very cool lo-tech, lo-fi guitar solo. Mind you, these terms only describe the techniques - musically it is sublime and perfect for the song. Miss Shevaughn sings this one like there might not be another, and she milks it so sweetly.

Yuma takes the microphone on Cloin's Lament, and he evokes visions of The Band if they had been produced by Jimmy Page - heavy, heavy guitar blues mixed with a "throw me in the river" refrain that develops into a torrent of passionate wailing vocals, crashing cymbals, and careening chords that slam against your ears with charming aplomb. Holy hell this is great stuff.

No Grave To Brush The Dust is another instrumental, and the interludes give a pleasant respite from the dust bowls, and broken city lights as Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray ride the highways and byways of an American Dream gone nightmare. Mind you, for all the darkness and trepidation this album deals with there is never a shortage of hope that shines through musically. That may be this record's greatest charm - in the face of life's hardships and tribulations, you get the impression that these are not just the survivors, they are also the victors.

We're From Here is a stunning and audacious debut - this record sounds like they've made an Oscar winning movie based on the Great American Novel. Miss Shevaughn joins Emmylou Harris and KD Lang in the realm of the great female American storytellers. She is a force of nature, and Yuma Wray provides the perfect home in which to raise her stories. Forget about genres and categories, this is great music.

We're From Here will be released September 11th, and Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray will be tour starting in September.

Thanks to Tony Bonyata at Pavement PR.

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