NOTE: The review below was written at AbsolutePunk.net by yours truly. I feel so strongly about this disc, I wanted to share it with my beloved RMP audience. Do enjoy .
The buzz about Birmingham, Alabama’s Wild Sweet Orange has been growing steadily throughout the past year-and-a-half and its about to reach its tipping point with the release of the band’s full-length debut We Have Cause To Be Uneasy. Beloved by indie hipster blogs as well as TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and radio stations like KEXP, the band appears on the brink of major stardom. Cause To Be Uneasy is packed with 11 songs that are vast yet intimate, jittery and contemplative; and also nostalgic while still hopeful. Lead vocalist Preston Lovinggood has a bit of a lazy vocal delivery that manages to be both haunting and inviting, honest and direct.
There’s something wholly moving about the way he wraps his words around verses and choruses, and as is the case through much of this album, how he bellows and growls alongside a driving guitar lick. Lovinggood’s impassioned and skilled vocal limits partner with an uncanny ability to offer vivid reflections of childhood and the world around us. Lovinggood is not the only talent in the band though. Guitarist Taylor Shaw was raised on blues and cut his teeth in various Birmingham blues band, at one time even backing up American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. His experience and seasoned playing are a perfect compliment to Lovinggood’s painted portraits of American life. The guitars are raw and gritty, evoking the very essence of the ups and downs of life.
The rhythm section of bassist Garrett Kelly and drummer Chip Kilpatrick are also on the point, as they help in creating music that is big, rousing, driving bar room rock a la Neil Young. Even when they cut the tempo down a notch, the songs still manage to smolder inside the psyche. The basic textures of the songs on Cause To Be Uneasyare folk-rock, as most songs begin with a simple acoustic guitar and meander through mid-tempo territory until the final minute or two when the guitars begin to get feisty and the songs crash down like a tidal wave. The best examples of this are “House of Regret” and “Aretha’s Gold.”
The quintet, who grew up together in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood initially grew up on indie and punk, presently cite Emmylou Harris, Wilco and movie director David Lynch as influences. The impact of the influences is readily apparent as each song drips with real-life quandaries and commotion. Nestled alongside gritty guitars, urgent drums and precise baselines are songs that are visceral, emotional and full of impact. These are songs that allow the listener to feel something in the very recesses of the soul, in ways that haven’t been felt before.
There are very few albums these days that contain powerhouse song after powerhouse song, but that truly is the case with Cause To Be Uneasy. After just one listen the album proves to be unforgettable, charming and nothing short of extraordinary. The album opens with the quiet, gentle roll of the country-folk of “Ten Dead Dogs,” which proves to serve as a bit of an anomaly. For starters it’s a quirky opening track as it creaks and swirls around like car wheels on a gravel road. Then there are the lyrics; few albums open as grotesquely as this, “I saw ten dead dogs on the side of the road driving late last night to your apartment.” But as the listener waits for more, the song indeed proves to be about nerve-inducing indecision and not canine carnage, “And I thought it was an omen / So I headed on back home / Walked in circles ’round my room.”
While it’s a peculiar opening track it’s anything but terrible. The band tries its hand at bar-room stomp with “Tilt,” as Lovinggood sings, “You’re shaking bad in your sheets, convulsing like you didn’t eat,” before slowing it down on “Seeing and Believing.” The guitars are revved back up again on ” Either/Or” and by the song’s conclusion its very much clear this is as good a first for songs as any album released this year. But it is not the best part of the disc by any stretch.
The nostalgia-laden “Sour Milk,” is one of the album’s true standouts as Lovinggood sings of childhood and suburban youth in a way that paints a cinematic scene. The folksy ramble of “An Atlas to Follow” is another good one but it doesn’t hold a candle to seventh song “House of Regret.” When the song finishes the label of “incredible” can truly be stamped across this band. It almost seems improbably that another stellar track could come forward, but that is indeed the case with the uplifting crackle of “Aretha’s Gold,” a near seven-minute epic that evokes the powerful, thunderous rumbling of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. A spirited song about first love, Lovinggood sings, “And then I kissed your mouth / I felt your past somehow / Oh, and your whole life flashed before my eyes.”
Listening to the record is like stumbling across the next Wilco, this is the true mark of a band that one would suspect would serve as inspiration for many in the years to come. This is an album that bristles with promise, professionalism and poise, and reeks of landmark status. Easily a Top Five Album of the Year, Wild Sweet Orange is indeed ready for their close-up. Not too shabby for a band named after herbal tea.
Preston Lovinggood – vocals, acoustic guitar
Taylor Shaw – guitar, Rhodes, toy piano, vocals
Garrett Kelly – bass, piano, vocals
Chip Kilpatrick – drums, Rhodes, accordion, bells, programming, vocals
Recommended If You Like: Augustana, Bright Eyes, Wilco and Neil Young.