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Posted at 2:14 PM ET, 08/30/2007

New Music From Local Bands

By David Malitz

It's time to check in on some more local acts with new tunes. In this edition we feature new releases from roots rockers Justin Jones & the Driving Rain, D.C. indie rock icon Travis Morrison and the ever-pleasant roots-folk stylings of Junior League.

Justin Jones & the Driving Rain - "...And I Am the Song of the Drunkards"
Next Show: Friday, Aug. 31, Rock and Roll Hotel
A lone acoustic guitar opens "...And I Am the Song of the Drunkards," the third album by Justin Jones & the Driving Rain. After the full band kicks in with a relaxed roots-rock shuffle, Jones starts singing: "You say the ground's gonna open up and suck me down / The way you act around me, you don't want me around." So you know what you're in store for from the beginning, which is both a good and a bad thing. The folky, singer-songwriter fare that Jones and the Rain work with is tuneful and goes down easy, but you can say the same thing about most bands playing this type of music. A few basic chord progressions, some downtrodden lyrics -- the trick is coming up with ways to differentiate yourself from the masses. On a bunch of tunes here Jones and his mates do just that. Weepy lap steel guitar makes "Never Again" memorable and the banjo-centric romp "Key" stands out on an album that's mostly filled with mid-tempo folk rock. "Long Way Down" is a dead-ringer for Wilco circa 1996, and let's face it, if you're going to sound like Wilco, that's the best era to cherry-pick from. It's a confident rocker that shows off the band's muscle. As a lyricist and singer, Jones could still use a little work. It's easier to get away with trite lines like "Babe, I love you so / I just wanted you to know" if you have a commanding drawl, but Jones has a voice that's pleasing, not much more. It especially doesn't work on a line like "Too much whiskey and too much gin / Somebody call the fuzz and they can take me in / She don't love me like she said she would / I don't beat her but I wish I could." The lyrics don't especially bother me -- though Jones is the singer, he is not necessarily the voice of the song -- it's that I don't necessarily believe him when he sings it. The blast of brass that soon follows helps you get over that, though. It's touches like those that appear throughout the album and help it break from the mold.



Travis Morrison Hellfighters - "All Y'All"
Next Show: Saturday, Sept. 1, Iota
In some ways this review won't be objective at all, but in other ways it will be extremely objective. See, Travis Morrison works here at washingtonpost.com, just a floor below us. Granted, most of his communications with us on the 12th floor are e-mails telling us about misplaced ads that are making pages look funky, but still, he's a co-worker. On the other hand, I was never a crazy, obsessive Dismemberment Plan fan, so I'm not really interested in comparing "All Y'All" to the work Morrison did with his much-beloved band that split up at the height of its popularity in 2003. The Plan was simply one of the many excellent local bands -- like the Make-Up, the Delta 72, etc. -- that I had the privilege of seeing over and over again just because I grew up in the area in the mid-'90s. Morrison remains a songwriter with plenty of ideas, and he's not afraid to throw them all together to see what works. "Catch Up" begins as a sing-songy, keyboard-heavy dirge when all of a sudden a guest rapper shows up for the chorus, sharing vocal duties with Morrison. After a couple verse/chorus repetitions, the song shifts into an almost drone-rock bridge before getting back to the chorus. It's weird, a bit of a head-scratcher and I'm still not quite sure if it works but it keeps you on your toes and Morrison's enthusiasm shines through. Sometimes it's my favorite song on the album, sometimes it's my least favorite. And that's a good microcosm of the album as a whole. There's so much going on that it never grows stale. Even the more straightforward rockers like "Hawkins' Rock" and "Just Didn't Turn Me On" are still full of polyrhythmic delights and subtle zigs and zags. It's rare you will find two verses or choruses that are identical on this album that keeps on rewarding listeners with repeated listenings.

Junior League - Oh Dear"
Next Show: Thursday, Sept. 6, Rock and Roll Hotel
Junior League's "Oh Dear" was released back in June but we're just getting around to it now. Sorry about that. Because this really is the perfect soundtrack for lazy summer afternoons. "Oh Dear" is a collection of breezy, sunny songs rooted in the tradition of bluegrass, folk and country, but it never sounds shamelessly retro. Banjo, mandolin, fiddle, accordion and harmonica are all featured at various times, but things never get too overwhelming. This is good because the element that holds everything together is the sweet, charming voice of singer Lissy Rosemont. The strong suit of Junior League's songwriting isn't necessarily in instantly memorable songs -- although tracks like "Brother" and "Chess Records" certainly qualify there -- it's more that they know exactly which elements to throw into the mix to make things work best. The band finds its greatest success when it stays in its comfort zone of relaxed, toe-tapping tunes. There aren't any real hoedowns, and that's fine. The quieter songs don't work as well, although as long as Rosemont is singing, there will always be something appealing.

By David Malitz  | August 30, 2007; 2:14 PM ET
Categories:  Music  
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Comments

You guys need to check out Eric Hutchinson's new album, "Sounds Like This." The second track, "You Don't Have to Believe Me" is killer.

Posted by: Vicki Axarlis | August 30, 2007 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Bravo on revealing the sounds of Junior League... they're fantastic. Great music to paint to

Posted by: Hank Beauford | September 5, 2007 1:08 PM | Report abuse

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