Nashville’s Earl Burrows has released its debut, a ten-song platter dubbed No Love for the Drowning. Produced by Brendan Benson, the Grammy-winning engineer of Raconteurs fame, the album offers a wide range of intense, hard-hitting roots, indie, and pop rock songs. Serving as a second stepping-out for band founder and frontman Mark Watrous, formerly of Loudermilk and Gosling, the album delivers crisp, fairly refined, sensual rock and roll.
The quartet is rock solid, pun intended. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Watrous forms the nucleus of the quartet, his vocals melodic and nicely sung. Brother and aspiring luthier Joel Watrous handles bass guitar duties, his stand-out lines equal portions assertive and burly, to mellow and content. Carson Medders provides additional guitar framework, his motives blending seamlessly with Watrous’s declarations. Drummer James Freshwater grooves along, providing a steady foundation for the tunes.
Earl Burrows covers a lot of sonic ground. Musically, fans of guitar-forward classic “roots” rock tone, especially glam rock, will eat this up. Tones and song structures referenced include early Alice Cooper, mid ’70s era David Bowie, T Rex, older Tom Petty, middle era Rolling Stones, and others. This album has a fantastic, consistent vibe throughout, with sparse digressions from rock that hits hard and hangs on. Most of these well-presented, energetic tunes are shorter, radio friendly length. Tunes show adventurous versatility, and a sharp, naturally curious urge.
A traditional guitar twang, and a surprisingly rich yet subtle reference to Brian Wilson esque melody, coupled to an ’80s pop tone, feature through the edgy “Delicate Ribbon”. “Akin to the Sloth”, which follows, also features the nice low-end bite which “Delicate Ribbon” brought into focus. Featuring dynamic pauses and near-explosive returns, “Akin to the Sloth” is rendered one notch nicer with the realization that it’s subtly referential to another Benson collaboration, that being Dean Fertita’s Hello=Fire. Sporting jam block percussion and interesting synth lines, the groovy, assertive swagger of “Go Home Girl” is easy to enjoy. “Our Kind” features a darker piano line which lofts the main melody. An interesting choice, this is extremely catchy. An expectation for musical utility man Watrous is that something weird will happen, and it’s going to be great. “Hey Me Israeli” is a whimsical and fairly manic romp, with full-song falsetto vocals, synth tangents, and what sounds like a kazoo accompaniment. It’s definitely the album’s left field curveball.
“All Will Bleed” has a drum intro, a relaxed pace, and an exquisite slide guitar motif. “The Glistening Sea” reflects to indie rock as well as syncopated funk. This will be a deep cut for someone digging for a tune that has a little different vibe then the usual rock fare. A beautiful, clear, very melodic acoustic guitar intro heralds “I Live in the Walls”. Vocals segue in next, and here, it’s easy to appreciate Watrous for his solo singer-songwriter talent. The tune, which becomes full band electric, has a moderate British vibe with a guitar-featured mix – what an aural treat. An uptempo tune, “Born To”, has a bit of a melancholy edge. Around this point, a wistful realization kicks in: this is one of those discs you’ don’t want to end. The album’s coda is a simpler, dramatic, vocal-forward ballad. “Infinite Spaces” is seemingly a love song espousing the joyous, but bittersweet ‘finally back together’ feeling that occurs when a pair is reunited.
Recorded at Readymade Studios, the album has a remarkably nice dynamic range, with no ‘volume war’ problems. A true stereo, rich, analog, full tone envelopes the disc. Fans of Benson’s discography, especially the My Old, Familiar Friend era and prior, will recognize fleeting and deliciously subversive glimpses of his work nestled into the folds of Earl Burrows’s songs. As an engineer, Benson again shines, affording the group a deep, honest, lush, and spacious mix that sounds good on many listening systems. Benson’s acumen as a producer shines brightly. Coupled to mastermind Watrous’s copious songsmith skills, songs end up uncontrived, yet jam-packed with melodic hooks. Tunes are spiced with just the right amount of subtle quirkiness to render a memorable earworm quality to them.
Watrous’s broadly appealing, cogent prosody and lyrics are easy to relate to, as they center on the human condition. “Delicate Ribbon” attempts to come to grips with the frustration and ambivalence of a relationship going sour:
Open up your mouth, and sing a pretty song;
Find another way, to string me along…”
“Our Kind” contends with the inner turmoil and conflict of a public versus private life:
“Is it good
To be known?
Or to be like an unturned stone?
To be found?
And the melancholy “I Live in the Walls” relays emotional distance, loneliness, being an invisible shade in a crowd, and being singled out:
“I watch the way in isolation.
I live in the walls…
I try to talk, but the words fall flat.
And I quickly stepped aside”
One caveat is that this does not sound like the Raconteurs, nor Benson’s solo efforts. Earl Burrows is its own intriguing, polychromatic, rock and roll entity, ready to take on the world.
During the crescendo of “I Live in the Walls”, Watrous sings “… If you really want to hear and know me, there’s signs you can show.” Want to get to know this band? Pick this album up, put it in rotation, and let it’s gravity pull you in.