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The Saving Graces: Outside Guiding Light

Jason MacNeil

The Saving Graces

Outside Guiding Light

Label: The Paisley Pop Label
US Release Date: 2004-08-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

The Saving Graces are from Winson-Salem, North Carolina. And they pop! They pop hard! Good golly, I mean they can pop out with the best bands around. Their debut album, although under the band name Neidermeyer, even took a cue from AC/DC's For Those About to Rock We Salute You when they called it For Those About to Pop. Needless to say then this isn't the all gloss, no substance pop that has saturated radio conglomerates for the last decade or so. This is the type of style that never grows tired no matter how long it's been done by hundreds of relatively obscure power pop/punk acts. The trio of singer Michael Slawter, bassist and backing vocalist Drew Jenkins, and drummer John Holman has been compared to the the Records as well as the Plimsouls. Whoever they're compared to, they can certainly stand on their own with this sleeper pick.

Groups like Big Star and Perfect come to mind from the first notes of "Giving Up the Ghost", a play-by-numbers power pop song that has a different, off-kilter hook in the chorus that gives it a slightly different groove. "I know she's looking for the camera / I know she's giving up the ghost," Slawter sings before they get back into the suffocatingly tight arrangement. Any garage band worth their salt should be able to churn this out, but few could do it with as much verve. This continues with the guitar jangle and tambourine-tinted "Faster Than the Speed of Life", a song that could make a case for roots rock ditty of the year. A large fraction of these tunes seem to lose their way on the bridge, but fortunately this song avoids that miscue, but just barely. Slawter sings about getting drunk and fighting, but even this trailer park imagery can't hurt the overall tone. The crunchy "I Belong to the Jet Set World" open with a lot of bombast or bravado but settles into the usual infectious tempo and groove. Jamie Hoover adds some sonic color on the Hammond organ as well before it breaks out for a jam-like ending.

The consistency of the album is a saving grace for the Saving Graces, although it comes in some quirky, eclectic packaging on the Harrison-ish title track. Mixing a roots rock sound with some Middle Eastern influences courtesy of the sitar guitar. As a result the tempo is slower than previous songs but they try to compensate with some sing-along "na na nas" in the bridge, the middle eight, or whatever else you can call it. Slawter and company go through the motions somewhat on the plain, insipid run-of-the-mill "Kennedy Whispers" that any small bar band could come up with. The song title is often repeated and doesn't seem to make it any better. The Saving Graces, when in doubt, head for the South on the tender Dixie-rock of "Safety in Numbers", resembling the Finn Brothers if they were reared south of the Mason-Dixon line.

A R.E.M. circa "Losing My Religion" greets the start of "Southern Gothic Sound" which is anything but really. Sugar-coated gem perhaps, but not gothic by any stretch. These three-minute tunes fly by, which is a credit to their creators. This is particularly true on the wistful country-leaning "Why Don't You Cry" which recalls the Connells or the Jayhawks in their infancy. The lone effort that doesn't immediately get your attention is "My Worst Critic" that takes far too long to get into and is much too relaxed. But the one-two closing punch of the punchy, foot-stomping "I Feel Fine" and "How Do We Get There from Here" are standouts, the latter being their own "Here Comes a Regular". If they keep doing this, they will get "there" quite rapidly.

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