New releases from Memphis’ Dirty Streets, Brennan Villines
“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)
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.