Now that live music has opened up again it’s time for me to take that long delayed southern tour I’ve been promising myself. Welcome fellow travelers to a melodious excursion through the American deep south with a whistle stop in each of four bottom southeastern states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
We begin our tour in Lafayette Louisiana with the guitar fabulous Television Man. Their 2017 long-player Always is packed full of great tunes leavened with some seriously tasty guitar work, super riffy and yet a bit chill at the same time. Opening track “Pay No Mind” is boppy fun while “Just Can’t Get Around” works a nice Bond riff into the tune. “Gator Girl” seems so Louisiana appropriate. But my choice cut here is the hooky guitar crash-out that is “Always” with its scent of Weezer. Hitting the road to Mississippi we time travel back to the 1980s to spend time with The Windbreakers, a band favourably compared to other southern alt-poprock contemporaries like REM. Their 1985 album Terminal is seen by many as their peak but I’m also partial to their 1991 farewell Electric Landlady (not to be confused with a similarly named album from Kirsty MacColl the same year). “Changeless” from the former is so mid-1980s in a Rank and Rile or True West sort of way while “The Girl From Washington” from the latter is more a Byrdsian throwback.
Moving on to Birmingham Alabama Billiards! have got a guitar sound found somewhere between the early to mid-period Beatles and the Monkees. Their 2019 self-titled debut is a bit of beat group revivalism that still manages to sound fresh and new. “Realize” has a touch of psych pop while “Just to be With You Tonight” has a folk rock touch. But ultimately it’s opening cut “Please Tell Her” that really grabs me with its hooky lead line and relentless swing. A year later their EP1 features a slightly tougher sound but is still folky psychedelic, vibing more 1968 than the previously dominant 1966. Heading off to Georgia we slide into Atlanta in time to catch the latest from Mattiel. The new album is Georgia Gothic but titles can be deceiving. Sure tracks like “Blood in the Yolk” and “Other Plans” have gothic-y feel. But so much of the album has a spirited spring to its step. Opening cut and early release single “Jeff Goldblum” motors along with an angelic cadence to the vocals and great guitar shots. Songs like “You Can Have It All” and “Lighthouse” have got hooks galore. My current album fave is “On The Run” with its psychedelic western vibe and a vocal that is so Neko Case meets Susan Jacks.
Our brief tour of the American south suggests there much more to the southern music scene than plastic country and good old boys. They’ve also got guitars, Cadillacs and some seriously hooky material to boot.
1920s American southern regional map fragment excerpted from Asprey’s Atlas of the World (London: Asprey, 1920), page 135, courtesy Maps Etc.