Entertainment Music — 02 March 2011

The dream team concept often works in the sports world, but its success rate is fickle in the music industry. Think Chris Cornell and Tom Morellos Audioslave project: some decent hits on two albums, but an overall disappointment considering their respective talents.
    
Or Monsters of Folk, the not so subtly titled supergroup of Jim James, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Matthew Ward. Their 2009 self-titled album was anticlimactic, if interesting.
    
It doesnt matter. Musicians put these groups together backstage, not on stage, and could probably care less about commercial success. Its just another outlet for experimentation, with colleagues they respect.
    
Middle Brother is folk-rocks newest crosshatch. Comprised of Delta Spirits Matt Vasquez, John McCauley III of Deer Tick and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, the bands members are too young to be considered a supergroup. Theirs is a team of all-star rookies, not seasoned veterans. 
That formula seemed to work for The Band. Just sayin.
    
Their 13-song debut album, Middle Brother, is mischievous debauchery. It thrives on its lyrics that are often gruff, subtly hilarious, usually romantic and always unapologetic. 
    
The albums delivery is soulful, even when doleful. The instrumentals are average, but that seems to be the point: Middle Brother is a songwriters project, a singers reverie and a jam bands nightmare.
    
Early in the morning, too hung over to go back to sleep / every sound is amplified, every light so dizzying, McCauley opens the disc with in Daydreaming. His voice is about as subtle as sandpaper, and his malaise-filled vocals are ragged, apparently from his scratched heart, which covets a bartender it cant have.
    
McCauley sets up the next track nicely Blue Eyes. It’s the albums catchiest tune, written and led by Vasquez, perhaps the most talented songwriter of the current musical era. Vasquez waxes lyrically: Shes a southern girl without the drawl / shes a good girl who wears a black bra / the only one who can make me crawl / but shes too sweet to force me. The sound of soul exudes naturally from Vasquez, who holds back a little and lets the lyrics do the talking.
    
McCauley and Vasquez tend to drown out Goldsmith, whose voice is naturally subtle and sweeter than his brothers. He holds down most of the ballads on the album, and shines on Blood and Guts, a painful love song with a tinge of dark humor: You were so pretty with your hands on my throat / or how you start crying when I ask for my coat, Goldsmith sings. I just wanna get my fist through some glass / I just wanna get your arm in a cast / I just want you to know that I care.”
    
As a whole, Middle Brother is a sound project. Even with somewhat pedestrian instrumentals, the trios vocals envelop each track, relegating guitar riffs to the back of your mind. 
    
Middle Brother inaugurated its first tour at D.C.s 9:30 Club Wednesday night, raising an intriguing question: Will the storied venue be the site of their first and last waltz?

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Alexandria Times Staff

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