Things That Used to Shine is an agreeable record, though one without many surprises, particularly if you’re familiar with the '70s singer-songwriter boom.
Don’t believe everything you read in the press releases. The one that accompanies the debut album by Wild Ponies – the core of the band has released two albums before as an acoustic folk outfit named Doug and Telisha for singer-songwriters Doug and Telisha Williams – practically suggests that Things That Used to Shine was the product of some past trauma that was quite severe, perhaps even childhood sexual abuse. However, when you sit down and listen to the record, you get the usual Americana tropes of troublemakers and troubadours, and nary anything that sounds remotely unique or not done before. That’s not to say that the personal doesn’t dovetail into this LP: the lilting ballad “Iris” is seemingly about Telisha’s partial Aborignal heritage. (“Iris was my daddy’s momma / Her mama was a Cherokee,” she sings.) However, there’s nothing really born here from deep-seated personal pain that would indicate this is a searing account of a life lived on the wrong side of a clenched fist.
All in all, then, Things That Used to Shine is an agreeable record, though one without many surprises, particularly if you’re familiar with the ‘70s singer-songwriter boom. It has a few faults: the production seems a little thin at times, particularly on opening cut “Make You Mine”, and Doug Williams is a less-than-commanding vocalist, and he seems to sonically get in the way of Telisha’s signing on those songs in which the pair duet. Still, there are lovely touches to be had: “Broken” is a soaring country-rocker, and the title track is partially a nice nod to the retro-tinged vinyl subculture. Truthfully, this is an album that demands deep listening and attention to parse the subtle lyrical layers. But the album’s best bit and biggest reward comes at the very end with “Another Chance”, a six-minute rousing reverb-y ballad that is heads above the rest of the material, which, at times, comes off as rote country-rock. With more songs like “Another Chance” in the band’s arsenal, they might have something truly towering to offer. Right now, their debut is simply all right and just a notch above what you'd hear from your standard local bar band. Things That Used to Shine isn’t bad, not bad at all, but it could be stronger if it were shorter than 12 songs long and offered a few more curveballs such as “Another Chance”.