I was driving down State Line Road when the first few notes of "She's Got the Ribbons" came through the car speakers: a desultory electric guitar lick that sounds like Luther Perkins in a drug haze, trying to remember the opening to "Folsom Prison Blues" but then deciding to play the tune to that kids' song that goes There's a place in France where the naked ladies dance.
When the guitar gets out of the way, settling back and punching lightly on the 2 and the 4, the voices come in. At that moment, my chest got warm. Even though the world outside was still wet and cold, it flowed with lovely yellows and greens.
The voices are drunken and beautiful, coming from a guy and some chicks cooing as though they've just risen from a bar table covered in empties and ashtrays to find new life on the dance floor. The sweet and smoky-voiced leader is Danny Fischer, who sings like Gram Parsons with a pompadour and a passion for Marlboro Reds. The three women are the Brunettes, who sound cute, sexy and withering all at once, like oversexed versions of Betty Boop.
The Brunettes Sarah Carpenter, Amie Nelson and Sonya Andrews sing the entirety of the second track, "On Rocket Get," a peppy hip-shaker full of ooh we-ooh we-ooh and ooh bop-bop vocal sways and punches, written by Fischer. He comes back on the third track, "Get Down Jenny," summoning Johnny Cash's hurtest snarl to sing, See her shakin' her heels about/On this nice, fancy bar/Spillin' suckers' money/Flows like lava in my heart.
That's the singing. I haven't even mentioned the instrumental variety: Besides the regular setup with Fischer on guitar, there's Josh Mobley's Fender Rhodes, Betse Ellis' (of the Wilders) fiddle and a bevy of horns from midtown- and Bottoms-dwelling musicians. The album was recorded live in two days by Chad Meise and mastered by E. Clarke Wyatt, two local guys who did an excellent job. No label yet.
The Afterparty's first album, Forever After, which came out more than a year ago, was also beautiful and wistful, but it seemed more the product of its core members' (Fischer and Mobley plus spidery lead guitarist Dave Regnier) love for Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt than the result of a seasoned collaboration. Also, this one sounds sexier and more like Roy Orbison (who was not sexy, though the Afterparty's cover of "In Dreams" would get a nun in the sack). More important, this record sounds more goddamned tired of your cheatin' ways and is about ready to get up and give you something to really cry about. But, naw, it'll just have some more whiskey and dream about you getting hit by a train.
I saw a different Afterparty live that same Saturday night the band about knocked me across the room. I'd seen it twice in the past year, months apart, and had been underwhelmed. The playing was simply sloppy, uncompelling and ramshackle, but I kept hearing praise from fans and figured maybe I just didn't get it.
A recent 10-day tour, combined with Rainbow's success, must have given the 'Party what it needed to really start rocking.
Unlike the album, the concert at the Record Bar, opening for Andre Williams and his entourage was wild and electric and heated. Carpenter had quit the Brunettes, and there were no horns, but they had longstanding local rocker Cody Wyoming on electric bass, and there was pretty much no BS when it came to playing hard.
Fischer (who doesn't use a pick) and Regnier play guitars that look as old as the music sounds, their rhythm and lead parts locked in like hinges on a saloon door.
They were tight, sober, mean and fun. And get this they played a set of almost entirely unrecorded material.
It was the kind of day that made a dreary city worth livin' in.