True: In the world of music, the Internet has empowered many a talented little guy, done wrong by the corporate monolith, to build an audience from the grassroots to the global. Also true: Sometimes, the connection times out, the “page is not found”, the circuits of sensibility and meta-criticism don’t connect…and something good, something very good, slips through the cyber safety net. Until now, Exhibit A of this type of circuit misfire was Roman Candle.
Let’s flash back to 2002. Your grandma isn’t yet blogging, and a good-music-loving Denver Bronco named Pryce hears a home recording by Roman Candle, a family band from North Carolina. He gives the band the budget to craft a proper album. Says Pop is born and released on Pryce’s indie Outlook. But, it wasn’t getting the distribution it deserved, so Pryce makes an arrangement with a bigger label. That label happens to be Hollywood Records, the corporate home of Hillary Duff. The behemoth shrugs, stalls, and false-starts with Says Pop, even going so far as to provide advance CDs to the music press.
Years pass. Roman Candle tours, building a die-hard following in the North Carolina region. Hollywood Records never releases the album. The band members meet local legend/producer/ex-Db Chris Stamey, who records a live album of them performing with Thad Cockrell. It remains unreleased. Stamey then helps to rework, remix and remake Says Pop… and, eventually, another round of promos arrives in mailboxes, courtesy of V2. Drum roll, please: A Roman Candle album now sits on record store shelves.
I hear you asking: Why didn’t the band just record another album and shop it? Or, why didn’t it offer the songs online as mp3s? Because Says Pop — which, after Stamey’s tweaking and the addition of one song, is now called The Wee Hours Revue — it is too strong to let slide. It deserves to be heard, and begs to be more than a download. There’s irony in the fact that more people will likely read this review than the number of music-lovin’-web-scourers who have heard any song by a band that has been in existence for almost 10 years and has been on three record labels. Brief history lesson provided, I’ll now do my best to improve this ratio.
The Wee Hours Revue is a bright album, in the connotation of both intellect and luminescence. “Something Left to Say” serves its purpose as the leadoff tune, an upbeat rocker that grabs your attention with rapid-fire delivery and chiming electric guitars. It’s extremely catchy without being saccharine. “You try to fall in love / you try to get control / you try to find a little bit of that in rock and roll…” sings guitarist/vocalist Skip Matheny as the band exudes both a love of r n’r and a steady control of its sonic textures. From the first listen, one gets easily hooked on these hooks. And there’s a lyrical potency throughout that catches your ear and makes rewinding rewarding.
Upping the ante and the volume, the second song “You Don’t Belong to this World” surges and spits, an electricized head-bopper that resonates power-pop. Despite its title, the lanky and soulful “I Can’t Even Recall” will leave its memorable melody stuck in your head. Timshel Matheny, Skip’s wife, adds great texture to these songs with her Rhodes organ work; sometimes it shimmers, elsewhere it vamps and broods. Skip’s younger brother, Logan, is the drummer, and he consistently offers the perfect mix of propulsion and space. Whereas the term “family” doesn’t always imply cohesion, it’s an apt descriptor, here.
“Help Me If You Can” has more than a hint of McCartney, while “Winterlight” leans towards the Dylanesque — with both its lyrics and its lurching harmonica. The song offers unexpected texture in the form of electronicized beats and blips, and it works surprisingly well. Overall, there’s a good bit of sonic experimentation on this album that you might not catch on the first listen: a rolling banjo buried in the mix, a sparingly subtle steel guitar, and more than a few gurgling synth effects. It’s a confidence unexpected within (what I guess we should call) a debut album.
Oh, yes, one last thing: you asked about the recording of another album? Well, actually, the five members of Roman Candle are way ahead of you. Two albums’ worth of material ahead of you, in fact. They also appear on forthcoming releases by Chris Stamey, Thad Cockrell, Otis Gibbs, Patrick Park, and a guy named Ryan Adams. All of which means that there’ll be lots of internet discussion devoted to Roman Candle, and that you’re bound to read more about the band. But for now, you need to hear Roman Candle. Go get The Wee Hours Review: because you can, and because it’s damn good. Your wait — and theirs — will have been worthwhile.