Memphis has always seemed to exist in contrast to Nashville. Years ago as Nashville grew with country music, Memphis became one of the birthplaces of rock and roll. The dicotomy between these two Tennessee cities has been immortalized by fringe Nashville artist John Hiatt in his song, "Memphis in the Meantime". Although Hiatt's point of view seems to give Nashville an unfair "slick" tag, no one can deny the history of quality music from Memphis.
Memphis has always had a foot in just about every musical camp, so it should be no surprise that the city is starting to make inroads into the alt country scene. Blue Mountain has always hovered around the Memphis axis, and the Riverbluff Clan have been keeping bluegrass alive with their regular gigs at the Poplar Lounge. However, Memphis's latest contribution, the Pawtuckets, may be the best yet.
I ran across the Pawtuckets first CD, "Cloud 9 Ranch", in Shangri-La Records (a Memphis tradition) latest catalog. It a fine effort the showed considerable promise. However, "Rest of Our Days" leaps the band forward ranking it as one of the finest new releases this year.
"Rest of Our Days" displays a band that has tightened considerably between records. Guitars weave like Jimmy Miller-era Stones while maintaining a string-pulling country edge. Piano and electric piano are used judiciously while touches of mandolin, harmonica, and pedal steel keep the music firmly rooted in country. Time has clearly served the band's music well.
Within this crack musical gem lies bared soul emotional difference that separates this record from many others in the genre. Tales of loss and longing supported by hope are made all the more poignant by the recent death of bandmember Mark McKinney's wife, Emily. Throughout the record the band allows him to grieve and mourn his loss while supporting his words with sympathetic accompaniment. Like the finest albums, "Rest of Our Days" takes the listener on a journey. We get a sense of place with wistful visions of the North Mississippi countryside early in the record on such songs as "Hatchie Bottom" and "Mississippi Parking Lot". As the record continues, the sorrow become more apparent. The sequence of the blistering "Shade", the bluesy "Shovel Goes Down", followed by the quiet "Song for Emily" lead brilliantly to the uplifting simplicity of the title track that ends the record.
At times Nashville and Memphis seem to be separted by far more than a few hours. When a Memphis band leans toward the country music of Nashville with this kind of accomplishment, it deserves notice. When they do it without losing that spooky and mysterious Memphis soul, it becomes essential listening.