It’s been a while since a band claimed, with any sort of evidence, to play straight rock, no chaser. It’s been an even longer while since that same band has sung well in three-part harmonies. Middle Brother is the ragtag formation of souls John J. McCauley III of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit. Formerly MG&V (a hat they threw on for their first show at SXSW) the super group’s country twang recalls the earliest influences of the genre.
For those unfamiliar with Middle Brother, “Daydreaming” is the perfect introduction. The first few lines where McCauley sings, “Early in the morning, too hung over to go back to sleep/Every sound is amplified, every light so dizzying/Listen for a while to the neighbors having sex, Wishin’ I could lay my achin’ head upon your breast,” gives one a good idea of what to expect.
Middle Brother is vulgar, but pretty, heartfelt, but honest and often downright funny.
Slow rocker “Blue Eyes,” is a song about a girl, “The only one who can make me crawl/She’s too sweet to force me.” The numbers range from bleary-eyed folk to high-stepping honky tonk. “Someday” brings straight doo-wop backed by a female chorus. Suffice to say Middle Brother tackles a lot in twelve tracks, without ever getting ahead of itself. It seems to go by the old Keith Richards adage, “Modern music is too much rock, not enough roll.” Aspiring hit and single, “Me Me Me,” with its pounding piano and open highway guitars carves out its right to the title.
The band’s palette consists chiefly of rhythm guitars and raspy vocal harmonies, the canvas occasionally slashed by Telecaster truckin’. At times it’s reminiscent of the Beatles doing rockabilly tunes like “One After 909” or “Act Naturally,” maybe even more so than originals like Buck Owens and Don Rich, which is a bold statement, but then there are even the saucy “Oo”s and “Ah”s. They roll harder than any another band with multiple part harmonies, especially Fleet Foxes, and are quite a bit rougher around the edges.
There are such poignant, isolated moments such as “Theatre,” a full-fledged nihilistic railing, where by the end Vasquez screams, “This life won’t tell you nothin’ but lies,” over and over.
Middle Brother touches on a myriad of emotions with their self-titled debut and perhaps even more remarkably, does it well—roaming over each number, fleshing it out to its battered soul.
Flexing its versatility, the band splits up lead vocal duties almost equally. Each voice adds another shade to the album, Taylor is the quiet, terse one of the bunch, and even he says “I wanna sing with more ‘Blood and Guts’/Instead I’m singing to you.” Each of the melodies on the album hooks you with its own distinctive rending. Catch them live and the effect is just about the same.
Middle Brother is timeless, the kind of entertainment that makes your parents say, “They don’t they make stuff like this anymore.” It’s a sad album, but its sadness is lightweight, moreover it’s an impressive debut from a band that’s achieved a lot with very little, who are unafraid to explore each facet their sound. It’s easy to believe the trio formed out of raw passion. As it’s said on the titular track, “I’m gonna learn to fly an airplane, I’m gonna make my country proud/I’m gonna send this song to Nashville and sell my soul to a whole new crowd.” Middle Brother proves they need not rebel for our attention.
Middle Brother – Middle Brother tracklist:
- “Blue Eyes”
- “Thanks for Nothing”
- “Middle Brother”
- “Me Me Me”
- “Blood and Guts”
- “Mom and Dad”
- “Million Dollar Bill”