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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Roman Candle
The Wee Hours Revue

Rating: 8/10 ?

June 20, 2006
The surgery is finished and all the bandages are about ready to come off The Wee Hours Revue, Roman Candle's pop-oriented remake of its alt.-country debut, Says Pop. Given a new identity, and a new home with V2 after languishing, sales-wise, in a major label witness protection program, Wee Hours removes the North Carolina band's dusty overalls and throws them in the wash. Rummaging around the closet, Roman Candle finds its old Sunday clothes, a powder-blue tuxedo straight off the rack from the Burt Bacharach Collection, circa 1977, and tries it for size. It fits surprisingly well.

Think of The Wee Hours Revue this way: it's like that actor from the Deep South who moves to New York City, goes native and adopts a bohemian lifestyle, all the while doing everything in his power to lose that damn accent. Occasionally, he's bound to lapse into his old voice - just like Roman Candle does with its silvery twang - and prove himself a fraud, unlike Roman Candle, a group that sounds genuinely comfortable and supremely confident in its new skin.

Produced by dB's founder and fellow Tar Heel Chris Stamey, The Wee Hours Revue emphasizes Roman Candle's classic pop and R&B leanings, though its opening gambit is the Southern-fried, Drive-By Truckers-style guitar rave-up "Something Left To Say." Two doors down is a similar deisel-powered anthem, "Another Summer." The Stax influence is especially prevalent in the soulful, horn-swaddled "I Can't Even Recall" and the simmering Rhodes organ that floods much of Wee Hours with vintage sound. Moving on to higher ground, "You Don't Belong To This World," with its stratospheric guitar surge and golden verses, beats the living tar out of Semisonic at its own game, while the slightly dazed, Double Fantasy acoustic strum of "Baby's Got It In The Genes" makes you miss John Lennon a little less.

Like The Jayhawks, Roman Candle found the alt.-country ghetto too confining for their tastes. Wee Hours is their daring escape. More self-assured than any band has a right to be, Roman Candle's arena-sized rock numbers have the confident air of a poker player who's just bluffed his way to a big pot. But it's the melodic clarity and humble piano-based grandeur of "Winterlight" and "Merciful," and the airy, 60s pop acoustic workout "Sookie" that suck you in hook, line and sinker - the bait being the same infectious pop sensibilities Jason Falkner fishes with. Matheny has a strong, blue-collar voice that feels as honest as a Bruce Springsteen lyric. And speaking of lyrics, the writing here is firmly grounded in reality, with subject matter ranging from over-heated youthful rebellion to trailer-park family soap operas to stunted maturity. Grace and humanity appear in the most mundane imagery as Roman Candle maps out the everyday problems of working adults, their broken dreams and their long-suffering love lives in graphic detail. To the swaying melancholy and gospel-style handclaps of "New York This Morning," Matheny, who also plays guitar, talks of "riding the bus to St. Patrick's Cathedral to light a candle" for a struggling relationship and how "the piston is holding out for a spark." Roman Candle doesn't wait for it.

A tour de force of gutsy, sophisticated Americana, complete with flecks of banjo and wheat-textured harmonica, Wee Hours knocks you flat with its rising power and sheer beauty, despite the underwhelmingly basic character of Roman Candle's songcraft. Stamey's flawless production has a lot to do with it. If you adored Says Pop, you might balk at how clean it is and how he's erased all of its rough-hewn charm. But that was the point of this exercise. To leave it the way it was would have been redundant. The sharp focus and definition he provides to Wee Hours is impossible to ignore and Roman Candle is better for it, sounding tighter and more refined than before. Stamey could do wonders with Ryan Adams. He's never really gotten that mix of delicious pop and refined country glory just right, but Roman Candle has with "From An Airplane Window" and with Wee Hours, they're flying first-class.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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