Saturday, February 4, 2012
The Ready Stance's Damndest on CD...and LP!
I've mentioned several times now how excited I am that so many new releases on LP also come enclosed with the full CD. Imagine my surprise, however, when I get a CD sent to me...and it comes with an LP! Well, it didn't exactly happen that way, so let me back up.
Wesley Pence, a musician who is also a friend of mine on Facebook, contacted me nearly a year ago to ask me about releasing his band's latest album on vinyl. While I don't have any contacts in the world's pressing plants, I did offer Wesley encouragement and made a few vague recommendations. He was able to locate a few facilities that were willing to press in minimum quantities of 300-500, and off he went. In parting, I told him half-jokingly to send me a test pressing--I'm a sucker for them--and he told me he'd send me the first one.
Nearly a year had passed, and I had forgotten about Wesley's project. Then, right after the new year, Wesley contacted me once more to ask for my address. The test pressing of Damndest was on its way! Now I have both it and the CD in my hot little hands, and it's really friggin' good.
The Ready Stance, Wesley's band, sounds at first like any talented band you might see at the Continental Club on a Friday night. For those not hip to the CC, it's one of the legendary clubs here in Austin and has a Cool Factor that's off the charts. It's relatively tiny yet attracts some of the best musicians in the Austin area, possibly because the sound system is so good and perhaps because the interplay between the audience and the stage is so intimate. I've seen great band after great band play here, musicians so good that you're surprised when you walk up to them after the show and ask to buy a CD and you find out they have no CD, no website, no mailing list--hell, they've only been rehearsing for two weeks. That's pretty much the Austin scene in a nutshell. Great music comes so easy when you're backed up with a shitload of talent--it's just a matter of finding three other people who aren't busy Friday night.
The Ready Stance has that same loose, casual yet slightly awesome talent that would be an ideal fit for the Continental Club. In fact, I was shocked that Wesley and his bandmates are actually from Kentucky, not Austin. Damn, I guess Texas doesn't have a monopoly on bands that can shift so seamlessly between genres such as country, rock and even a shade of psychedelia (heard on songs such as the opener, "Rancho Cristo"). For me that's sort of a trademark of Austin bands, that their music sounds so varied from different angles, all at the same time. But enough about Austin--these guys are Kentuckians, so represent!
While Wesley is credited with guitars and backing vocals (he's joined by Chase Johnston on vocals and guitars, Paul Conti on bass and backing vocals and Eric Morton on drums), he's written nearly every song. His lyrics are one of the elements that elevate these tunes. Take "Rancho Cristo" again, with its religious references that culminate the subtlely cynical verse "Land across the highway/Start construction day and night/Less a church, more a city/Touchdown Jesus/Neon light." One of the most disctinctive songs on the album, "Little Carmel," is unexpectedly adorned with Conti's banjo playing while it deals with someone exploring his own roots: "Little English, little Dutch/Little colored, just a touch/Little Gibson, little Goins/Little Carmel in the loins." There's certainly not singing about these things in mainstream country; they're too busy tiptoeing through the corridors of the record company headquarters. This is Lucinda Williams territory.
As far as the comparisons between the LP and CD go, I'll have to give the nod to the vinyl, which is a relief after the Kate Bush debacle. This is a supremely quiet pressing, despite the fact that Wesley apologized to me because, as he says, "Although I think recording quality is good, it's still basically a DIY, so we didn't go whole hog with audiophile-weight vinyl, etc." Wesley also said the band lucked into some vintage tube and analog gear and decided to remix the whole thing after hearing how good this equipment sounded. The test pressing was done in France, and whoever did it should be commended for a pristine, dynamic sound. Maybe they should take a crack at the next run of 50 Words for Snow.
Even the CD sounds pretty darned good. It says on the liner notes that Damndest was "recorded at home in 2011," and this reminds me how the simplest way is usually the best way (check out Jack White's recording prowess for more examples of this philosophy). What Wesley and the Ready Stance have captured is the excitement of a band playing great songs live for a smart, appreciative and slightly wild crowd, in a really cool club...I dont know, maybe one located somewhere in Kentucky.