Clean and Sober
Austin, Texas band Tinnarose is a group that doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed. If you listen to their debut self-titled album, you’ll hear everything from straight-ahead indie rock (“When You’re Gone”) to Paul Simon’s Graceland-inspired world beat (“She Is My Maker”) to Steely Dan-esque jazz-rock fusion (“Monster”) to Fairport Convention-esque folk rock (“Willie O’Winsbury”). That this manages to hold somewhat together is a feat of its own. Skipping through genres, and not establishing a signature sound, may be considered a weakness, but Tinnarose manage to find a strength by doing so. Each of these songs is uniquely Tinnarose, and, as a whole, the album offers enough twists and turns to give a great deal of variety to the listeners. Tinnarose is a pleasurable experience, but no more so than when female vocalist Devon McDermott takes the spotlight. Her take on the no-choruses “Willie O’Winsbury” is a strong candidate for song of the year, the sort of thing that may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. Her vaguely Irish lilt calls to mind Linda Thompson, and, if you were to strip away the song’s instrumentation (which is fantastic, by the way), it could stand on its own. It’s simply breathtaking, and it’s clear that we have a new talent worthy of laurels on our hands here.
There’s also a bit of an interesting story to the creation of this album. Songwriter Seth Sherman, who also shares vocal duties, struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse prior to the making of this album, and Tinnarose was his way of crawling out from underneath the rock that he found himself buried under. So that, perhaps, explains the widely divergent nature of this album to some degree: in struggling to reach sobriety, he clearly reached into his bag of influences and brought everything to the table, challenging himself to not only make songs that would stick with the listener, but to tie all of these loose threads into one big coherent whole.
That Tinnarose generally pulls this off is a testament to its songcraft. And you can’t help but root for an individual who is struggling to gain control of himself and his facilities; there’s something to be said there about the redemptive power of music. So, while Tinnarose is all over the map, the songs themselves are bracingly strong, for the most part, and this record stands up as a well-built house of delectable tunes that are compulsively hummable. There are subtle pleasures to be had in this record. There is the outro track “Fallen Debris (Reprise)”, which is a six-minute ride out of an already long song heard earlier on the album, with McDermott’s breathy voice simply cooing, sans words, over the otherwise instrumental. Or when the group is doing straight-up Matthew Sweet impersonations, such as on “Small Talk”, which, too, lasts six minutes without being boring – it has an extended guitar solo section that lights the house on fire, and its chorus has a suitably glammy, T. Rex feel to it.
Tinnarose is interested in not only stitching together various types of popular music throughout the LP’s 40-minute runtime, from song to song. Sometimes, they play genre hopscotch within a song itself. A prime example is the second track, “Hard Loving You”. The song starts out with a bluesy shuffle, but, by the time you get to the refrain, the band enters jazzy Steely Dan territory, weaving in and out of various styles of music as though they were simply slipping on and off a pair of sneakers. Meanwhile, the original version of “Fallen Debris”, with vocals, sort of sounds like some of the funky numbers found on Chicago X. There’s a very ‘70s soft rock vibe happening here that’s absolutely charming to hear.
It’s good to hear the band stretching out, as almost half of the LP has songs that reach out into the five- and six-minute mark, and these tracks tend to be the best and most memorable. There’s just a groovy feel to these expansive songs that are a treat to devour and digest. If anything, Tinnarose is skronky and isn’t afraid to just stretch out and unwind, knowing full well that they have absolutely outstanding material to do so. There are some really subtle joys to be had here, and it’s a shame when the group suddenly cuts off “She Is My Maker” at three minutes, when you just want the outfit to ride the afrobeat feeling of the song.
Sometimes, Tinnarose does feel a bit corny, such as on the rhythm and blues baiting “Emptyness” (which also manages to sound a bit like Ian and Sylvia Tyson) and on “Hard Loving You” with a very funky guitar part rearing its head in inappropriate places. However, there is more than enough to make up for these deficiencies. Every time that McDermott opens her mouth, it’s a thing of real magnificence to hear and basically is your price of admission for this album.
Tinnarose is a singer-songwriter showcase of the highest order, and there’s plenty of material to keep coming back to. It’s actually astonishing to hear on the opening line to “When You’re Gone” – the most straight-up rock track to be found on the record – that “I was born in 1979” from Sherman, especially since they so acutely capture the essence of songwriting from that decade. He may just be playing a character, it’s hard to say, but, regardless, Tinnarose captures a feeling, and that is that rock ‘n’ roll might have been at its best during the Me Decade. Effecting bridging the gap between various styles of songwriting, Tinnarose is a slightly flawed must hear from an exciting and dynamic new group. By the time you get to the end, you have to wonder what the band might do for a sophomore effort. If the reprise is any indication, it looks like we can look forward to more jams that reach into the heavens and make for some very good compositions as an encore.