Rock is no stranger to supergroups, but the concept has fallen by the wayside since the late 1970s. Maybe it was the punk influence, which decried any kind of excess while blasting out three chords and the truth, but chances are the massive egos of the individuals involved in most all-star gatherings caused the idea's downfall. For the last true rock supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys, Roy Orbison died a few weeks after their first album was released; the unholy alliance of Orbison with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison, and . . . Jeff Lynne was no more, as was the supergroup compromised of equally famous rock stars. And Jeff Lynne? Whose banana did he have to peel to get that gig?
But while those dinosaur megabands are at the point of extinction, a new way to collaborate is taking over the indie music scene. Take one (relatively) unknown songwriter, surround him/her with friends from other bands and watch the magic happen. This strategy worked for Gordon Lightbody and his roving band of Scottish indie musicians -- aka the Reindeer Section, whose delicate, pretty songs over two albums are easy on the ears -- and now it's working for Tali White and his intercontinental band, the Guild League. White, who wrote and sings on every track for the band's debut album Private Transport, employs friends from Australia and California, tapping the Lucksmiths (White's own band), Aisler's Set, the Fairways, and Sodastream, among others, for help. The result is a sometimes quiet, sometimes jangly -- but always engaging -- album that showcases White's talent for breathy vocals and sharp arrangements that just so happen to include 13 other musicians.
If the album title isn't warning enough, White's lyrics are obsessed with travel. "Jet set go" is the album's first single, and jaunts along at a quick pace as White sings about skipping from Spain to London to Vietnam to San Francisco and leaving behind the worries of everyday life: "On the banks of the mighty Mekong with beers / Getting old is the least of my fears". The travelogue-like descriptions may as well be used by the tourist boards for each locale; White paints each stop as the perfect vacation spot.
The next stop on the journey is a long stay in London with "Cosmetropolis (London Swings)", complete with a blast of horns and a saloon-ready romp on the piano to help the song live up to its title. A tale about the 9 to 5 life in England's capital city, White longs for spring and summer and Friday nights on the town; he's drawn to the simpler things in life that give so much pleasure.
And that is White's other focus throughout the album. Songs such as "Balham Rising", "The Photographer", "Gravity", and "Cornflakes" are celebrations of the everyday happenings that are overlooked. White found a way right to my heart -- a song about the wonders of cereal -- but never tries to be overly cute. His voice gives the songs a calming foundation and never overwhelms the playing of his many friends over the course of 13 songs.
White's orchestration is simple but nothing short of inviting. The cello and violin are used liberally, never more beautifully than on the instrumental "Baggage Handling". Another highlight, "A Faraway Place" uses an upright bass and handclaps to abut a cappella interludes and gorgeous vocal harmonies. "Siamese Couplets" features White, uh, rapping in a distinct Australian accent about the joys of Southeast Asia . . . it's a quirky little treat.
White also released "Jet Set . . . Go" as a single, with "Cornflakes" and "A Faraway Place" demos filling out the tracks. The latter two songs are in very rough form, as White uses all of his own vocals for the a cappella parts and leaves out most of the instrumentation. It's only worth checking out for diehard fans.
Private Transport puts forth a fantastic foot forward for the new and improved supergroup concept, and any fan of the Lucksmiths would be remiss in not checking it out. Any fan of gentle indie pop should take note: The Guild League is worth a look or three.