As compelling as any album released this year, and possibly one with a chance to stand the test of time, Lonnie Walker’s These Times Old Times is easily one of the best albums I’ve been introduced to since I started reviewing music. It’s the payoff for sifting through countless faceless artists everyday. The kind of record that, after you’ve heard it, makes you wonder how you managed to not have it in your collection before (which is high praise indeed for free promotional music you recieve through the internet).
They’ve recieved scant mention in press thus far, popping up in a handful of North Carolina based blogs and prints (and here, on Aural States), but they seem almost destined for greater recognition. Originally the solo outing of Brian Corrum, Lonnie Walker are now a collection of ECU students who’ve been playing together for several years before recording These Times Old Times, which partially explains their obvious self-assuredness. Occasionally they are joined on stage by John Graham, who does improv painting during their set. Even the creation of their band name seems mythic, combining Lonnie Johnson (inventor of the super-soaker) and Starlite Walker, the first Silver Jews album.
From the start of “Grape Juice,” Lonnie Walker define their sound but aren’t content to sit within those comfortable alt-country bounds, even by the second verse embarking on wonderful detours of Neil Young-like electric guitar, and reaching singalong chorus parts by the end. Corrum is a born vocalist, with the magical ability to make some of his weirder nuances (check the repetitious noises in “Compass Comforts” and lyrics about pubic hair on “Summertime” for proof) seem natural. Musically the songs never stick in one place very long, and every new piece comes as a logical, although entirely unanticipated extention of their song’s original structures. It’s impressive enough when a band tosses off musical ideas effortlessly, but you get the feeling that out of probably hundreds of possible directions, the band has edited themselves down to their best ones. Somehow the hard rocking middle of “Back Home Inside With You” fits prefectly with the calmer rest of the song; the drum machine in “Summertime” is the perfect setup for the song’s staccato coda.
In addition to being a confoundingly self-assured debut, These Times Old Times is often compard to Bob Dylan’s electric period in most reviews, but this band casts off the occasional lapses into monotony and self-consciousness that mar Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Vocally, Dylan is the easy comparison, but Corrum more often takes a page from Dylan’s modern interpreters like Bill Callahan of Smog or Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, whose weary white-trash poet laureate aesthetic Lonnie Walker has perfected. Occasionally there are hints of a bluesier, genuinely Stonsey (Sticky Fingers-era) combination of poignant songwriting and hard rock power.
Lonnie Walker’s musicality sets them apart from those artists who laid the foundation for lo-fi alt-country, bands like Smog and Silver Jews, who while maintaining a high quality of songwriting and lyricism, were not especially gifted musicians. Thankfully, from a purely musical standpoint, Lonnie Walker is consistently captivating. They are the rare band whose lyrics are a seamless extention of the music, where neither element dominates the other, and both are superb. The songs are rewarding whether they keep it simple, as on “St. Sleeper,” or when they choose to show off more complex musical muscle, as “Pendulum’s Chest” demonstrates. Lyrically Brian Corrum ranges from charming wordplay to humbling observations, a mix with which lo-fi country rock seems to be blessed. Even the longer songs (and there are four that cross the 5-minute mark) never drag, becoming only further testament to their ethic of crafting music so loaded with ideas, subtleties, and vitality to maintain your interest throughout. To do so is an impressive feat for a seasoned artist, and somewhat staggering for a debut.
The record ended leaving me desperate for more. A near perfect debut, and by any standards an excellent slice of music. I can only hope to hear more from this band in the future.
Release date: Sep 15 2009
1. Grape Juice
2. Compass Comforts
3. Old Birds in the Seas
4. Back Home Inside With You
5. Wider than White
6. Horse Boots
7. St. Sleeper
10. Pendulum’s Chest
11. Country Crowded Trees
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