Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Carry Illinois' Garage Sale on CD

It's probably not fair to say that Carry Illinois is Lizzy Lehman, 'cuz there is a whole big band standing behind her and playing solid mid-tempo rock. But she's the one out front, exposing her vulnerabilities, her fears and her longing. Behind the scenes, however, it's this Austin-based quintet as a whole that's been through the so-called ring of fire, and this new six-song EP is all about putting things back together after they've fallen apart.

I reviewed Carry Illinois' album Alabaster back in 2015 and described it as "empty and reverberent and reminds you of a late night performance that started long after midnight because the opening acts couldn't get their shit together." (I meant empty as a compliment, as in a sparse sound in a big space.) Since then the band has been struggling to deal with the suicide of original bassist John Winsor. As Lehman has said, "Why is it so hard to restart? Why is it so hard to put the parts back together?"

It's good news that Carry Illinois has put the parts back together with new bassist Andrew Pressman, along with drummer Rudy Villareal, guitarist Darwin Smith and keyboardist Derek Morris. I liked Alabaster but found it to be composed of familiar pieces. Garage Sale is more of an honest expression of where the band and its music fits into the world--sad and wounded but trying to move to the next phase. It's disheartening when a band can't quite manage this--think of Lush--but Lizzie's strength and persistence is present in every word she sings. That adds another layer of depth to the music which is mighty compelling.

If this sounds like a bit of a downer, it isn't. If you listen to Garage Sale without knowing the backstory, you'll find these six songs to be positive and encouraging and even hopeful. If you know what the band's been through in the last couple of years, however, the sadness is right there staring back at you. In the closer, "Goodnight," you can't help but feel all of the pain and the wondering and the confusion. Lehman sings that she wants to be able to "look at all my friends, my dearest family, wishing happiness to call and take the place of agony."

As an anthem, it's a bit heavy. But as a closing thought, a conclusion, it's the very definition of hope.

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