Dear and the Headlights
I really enjoyed Small Steps, Heavy Hooves, the first album by Phoenix's Dear and the Headlights. The only CD I received the whole time I was doing my Nude as the News column that I kept listening to after reviewing, that debut made the band seem like a bunch of old guys playing classic rock-inspired music after a solid night's drinking. On Drunk Like Bible Times, they're still putting them away, but some time touring with current buzz acts has added some more modern elements to their sound. "Wiletta" has some towering Greenwood guitar atmospherics at its climax. "I Know" is one of several songs on the album with blipping production details underneath the surface of guitar, bass, keys, and drums. Their somewhat charming habit of recycling famous titles for originals has been maintained -- here's "Parallel Lines," in fact a rather pretty acoustic ballad, and "Try," another ramshackle break from the album's electric full-group sound.
They've experienced some turnover in the last year -- founding guitarist Joel Marquard was replaced by keyboardist/bassist Robert Cissell before the recording of Drunk Like Bible Times, and bassist/keys Chuckie Duff left earlier this year. Despite the shakeups, Drunk sounds like a natural progression from the first record. The songs are rooted in similar 70's rock territory, with lead guitar and keys that rotate in support and color roles. The most exciting advance from Small Steps is Ian Metzger's growth as a frontman. He always had a powerful voice and a fine feel for lyrics, but lots of touring behind the first record seems to have improved his showmanship and given him many different ideas about how to approach his delivery. "Carl Solomon Blues" features barely contained, almost hardcore-tinged high-register wailing, "If Not for My Glasses" confessional musing in his head voice, "Saintly Rows (Oh Oh)" further refinement of his slower-burning operatic style, "Bad News" a tough melody just executed beautifully.
If Small Steps, Heavy Hooves showed a band figuring out that they sounded pretty terrific just playing together, Bible Times shows Dear and the Headlights learning to emphasize their strengths. There's not much meandering, but P.J. Waxman's guitars and Cissell and Duff's keys shadow the vocal melodies at just the right points. The added confidence in the studio helps them set different moods for each of the tunes, and a campaign of minor refinements to their debut's sound is a better fit for this band's group concept than a series of radical experiments.
Dear and the Headlights play Emo's inside stage on Friday the 9th.