BY GRANT BRITT, ESP Magazine
Memphis the Band
Don't go slapping an Americana tag on Memphis. That's Memphis the Band, not the city. This Memphis operates out of Chapel Hill and calls their sound "garage roots rock." Or at least most of them do. Guitarist Scott Morgan says he's okay with the Americana label, but it doesn't set well with the other band members.
"Oh no, I like being associated with it," says Morgan. "It's more the drummer, Jeremy Thompson, who did the PR work. He felt a lot of the Americana stuff was being put under more of the folk music genre, or newgrass, and we're not really in that vein, not now. So we went to the roots rock, roots covering a lot of ground in itself."
Maybe too much ground for some critics, who seem to be confused as to the origins of Memphis's sound. Those who think that Southern rock is the heartbeat of this music need to get in out of the sun and lay off the Skynyrd juice.
"I did a radio interview a couple of years back, and they (talked about) my classic Southern rock style," says Morgan. "And I had to say, `I don't like the description Southern rock, but I am Southern.'" The guitarist says that the closest he got to classic Southern rock is growing up listening to classic rock in the South. And as far as that genre's influence on him, he says when he sits down to write, he "might have Tom Petty in mind sometimes, but not always. But Tom Petty, it's hard to call him Southern rock."
The only Southern element evident in most of Memphis's music is in Morgan's voice, which resembles Black Crowes front man Chris Robinson, a comparison that Morgan says he's heard since early on in his career. Wife Shannon adds Bonnie Bramlett-style vocals for a '70s era Delaney and Bonnie feel on two cuts, "45" and "Sunshine," from the band's latest release, Last Of the Cadillac Days.
But the music is not that easy to pin down. Morgan says that the new album is "sort of along the lines of rock. I like Americana rock but I can't get everybody else to agree on that." It's got the gut bucket thump and twang that makes it rock hard, but lacks the sneering, swaggering posture that most hard rockers adopt. The garage label seems more apt, conveying a rougher rock sound while still remaining independent. "It can be rougher, it's not polished," Morgan admits somewhat grudgingly. "Garage may be a rough term, but it may fit."
The job of helping the vehicle fit in the garage fell to ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper and Knockdown Society founder/ frontman Jimbo Mathus, who produced and recorded the album. Morgan says he was nervous about working with Mathus at first, but once he met him and found out how relaxed and laid back he was, it made things easy.
"He brought a lot," says the guitarist. "He brought a lot of tricks. The first track, `Cadillac,' the wicked guitar sounds you hear over everything, that came from almost an hour of lining up amps. He had the freaking things turned up to overdrive." Mathus also contributed his string skills to the album, playing sitar on the cut "Sunshine."
To get a down-home flavor in the mix, the album was recorded at Southern Culture on the Skids' Rick Miller's Kudzu Ranch in Mebane, and with Mathus busy orchestrating the musicians and "running around adjusting a lot of stuff, it was a very good time," Morgan relates.
This is the band's third album, and the guitarist says that he's learned a lot since they started as a duo in Chapel Hill in '97 with cousin Jeremy Thompson on drums. Since then, bassist Ryan Davis, Pete Lucey on piano, organ and accordion, Dale Wheeler on lead and rhythm guitar, and wife Shannon have been added.
Memphis is serious about the business of building their rock garage. And with Jimbo Mathus building the framework, and Cris Stamey doing the final materials mix, Memphis will be standing for a long time to come.
Memphis the Band
Last of the Cadillac Days ***** (Five Stars)
Review by Jeri Rowe, Greensboro News & Record, GoTriad
There are times in your life when you discover a good book, a good bartender, or a good jukebox and you feel lucky for your good fortune. Add Memphis the Band's "Last of the Cadillac Days" to that list.
The band's 12 song CD has the loose-jam feel of The Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street," with Dale Wheeler's sweet slide guitar and the nice touches of Pete Lucey's organ. And no wonder. Jimbo Mathus, a Mississippi native who learned about the blues from Charlie Patton's daughter, produced "Last of the Cadillac Days" at Kudzu Ranch, a Mebane garage converted into a studio by Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids. Chris Stamey, an architect of the 1980s Southern pop sound, mixed the disc at his Chapel Hill studio.
Memphis, which plays June 28 at The Blind Tiger, will hold a CD release party Saturday at Chapel Hill's Local 506 with Mathus and his Knockdown Society.
The find on this CD is the point-counterpoint singing of husband and wife Scott and Shannon Morgan. Both attack the songs with the strength of good whiskey. Shannon Morgan croons and scoops into her notes like that famous diva nicknamed Pearl. Meanwhile, her husband has a dusty, late-call lilt that fits his songs like blooming dogwoods in spring.
And this guy can write. As in "Sunday": "Take the man from the city and put him in the woods/It's like barbed wire around his brain." Or in "Stories": "Staring at your blue eyes/Caught between the traffic and the lights and some place between your soul/Howling at the new moon just like two crazy kids on the juice."
This is beautiful stuff in all its ragged, raise-your-glass glory.
Music Monitor (Review)
The first thing I noticed about Chapel Hill-based six-piece Memphis the Band is that their name, true to the band's stationery, really is Memphis the Band, as if they lost a copyright lawsuit with Memphis the city in Tennessee. The second thing I noticed is that, as showcased on their brand new Last of the Cadillac Days (produced by Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Knockdown Society) they have a pretty good sound going. One that's one the rought-hewn-soul side of roots rock, a la The Band and Little Feat. And Shannon Culp's barroom banshee harmonies may be the deal-breaker for some people, but they work for me.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Last of the Cadillac Days
2. 45 Rekkid
4. Newsberry Street
5. Prison Yard
6. Even the Kings
7. Shaking Off the Cold
9. Take It Uptown
10. Barefoot and Blinded