New re­leases from Mem­phis’ Dirty Streets, Bren­nan Villines

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MUSIC - By Mark Jor­dan Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

“White Horse” Dirty Streets (Alive Nat­u­ral­sounds Records) ★★★ ½

Blues-boo­gie trio Dirty Streets some­times gets for­got­ten in dis­cus­sions about Mem­phis bands in part be­cause they don’t play their home­town very of­ten, pre­fer­ring to fol­low the Lucero model of build­ing a fan base on the road and not wear­ing out their wel­come be­fore lo­cal au­di­ences.

Al­ready proven do­mes­tic road war­riors, the band will em­bark in the New Year on their first tour of Europe, where they have al­ready built a fol­low­ing be­hind strong re­views of their first three records as well as their just-re­leased fourth ef­fort, “White Horse.”

The fact of the mat­ter is, when they are here, there may be no hard­er­rock­ing out­fit in town, a con­clu­sion re­in­forced by “White Horse.”

Recorded at Ar­dent Stu­dios with long­time pro­ducer Matt Qualls, the record once again finds the trio of Thomas Storz (bass, per­cus­sion), Justin Toland (vo­cals, gui­tar, per­cus­sion) and An­drew Den­ham (drums, per­cus­sion) min­ing the clas­si­crock sound of bands like the James Gang and Blue Cheer; it is ad­mit­tedly a back­ward-glanc­ing ap­proach — and an­other rea­son the band may slip through the cracks.

But from the open­ing “Yeah, yeah!” of hooky lead­off track “Save Me,” the band breathes new vigor and rel­e­vancy into its retro ra­dio in­flu­ences. An­other an­tecedent here might be The Black Crowes, who worked in a sim­i­lar clas­sic mode.

With the ex­cep­tion of the “Hey Joe”-in­spired acous­tic-driven psy­che­delic bal­lad “Dust,” a nat­u­ral-but-un­ex­pected turn, the band keeps the power riffs go­ing through­out the eco­nom­i­cal 36-minute run­ning time, a per­fect en­tice­ment to hold you over un­til their next sweaty home­town ap­pear­ance.

“Free” Bren­nan Villines (Self-re­leased)

★★★ ½

Whether its rock, blues or rap, Mem­phis, ever the muddy lit­tle river town, tends to like its mu­sic down and dirty. Thus the city has never en­tirely em­braced pop mu­sic, with its slick edges and re­gional in­dis­tinct­ness. But pop pretty much rules on to­day’s mu­sic scene, and artists such as Myla Smith and Jeremy Stan­fill and now Bren­nan Villines are keep­ing the city in the game with smart, well­crafted ef­forts.

Even if you haven’t caught one of his fre­quent live gigs, Villines may be fa­mil­iar from his ap­pear­ances in lo­cal mu­si­cal theater pro­duc­tions and as a mem­ber of the Mem­phis Griz­zlies house band. A graduate of the Univer­sity of Mem­phis’ mu­sic pro­gram, Villines is a clas­si­cally trained pi­anist and singer orig­i­nally from ru­ral Western Ken­tucky, a back­ground that makes his mu­sic — soul­ful, jaz­ztinged R&B rem­i­nis­cent of John Leg­end or Gavin DeGraw — all the more sur­pris­ing.

In 2011, Villines and his trio re­leased a jazzy self-ti­tled EP. On the just-re­leased full-length al­bum “Free,” Villines takes sole billing with a funkier, more mod­ern and de­vel­oped sound. He an­nounces his more am­bi­tious in­tent with the open­ing track “What If,” which builds from a sparse pi­ano in­tro to a midtempo funk groove with a nicely ac­ro­batic verse from lo­cal rap­per Preauxx.

Much of what fol­lows is low-key, pretty and at­mo­spheric — bal­lads per­fect for couch danc­ing with that spe­cial some­one.

Then, in the al­bum’s sec­ond half, Villines comes alive, chan­nel­ing his in­ner Ste­vie Won­der on “That’s What I’m Here For” and “This Is Love” (fea­tur­ing a turn from rap­per Butta MD) be­fore wrap­ping things up with a live ren­di­tion of “Hold On I’m Com­ing” that re-imag­ines Sam & Dave’s Stax clas­sic with a slinky, sexy new groove and Auto-Tune vo­cals.

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