The Starlings – A Bright Light

Seattle summers are a short lived, blink of an eye kind of thing. Beer turns a shade lighter, windows roll down, sleeves roll up. There’s really only a two month window to work on the elbow to wrist tan which makes selecting the perfect Augustine album an important thing. It should be one part sing along, one part hip shaking. One part Mercer St. Exit, one part Chuckanut Drive. Following the logic it should probably be the latest release from Seattle band The Starlings, “Bright Light”.

Now, before we go any further I must admit a conflict of interest. I’m absolutely smitten with The Starlings. They were recent guests on my Americana roots show The Outskirts on KBCS and it was as sweet of a gig as I’ve had the pleasure to host. The chemistry between these four crackles. They work themselves into deep country grooves and blend harmonies and instruments into slow rolling low two steps and glorious anthems that could only be born out of 300 days of gray clouds over Ballard skies. The melodies are so strong they, at first, overpower the lyrics, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not take another listen. Hearts painted like buoys and smashed pennies and devils and phone booths (something we can define in a later blog, along with carburetors and not paying for air at a filling stations) make up the guts of this album. I keep coming back to the chemistry though, the undefinable defining thing about what makes an album great.

Songwriter, singer, guitarist Joy Mills has a slightly smoked voice, more of a second hand sound then a pack a day habit which gives her a gravelly bottom end when she wants it, but still allows her to turn those pipes upward and soar. She alternately blends near perfect with Tom Parker’s voice and pocket harp. Tom has a country soul voice that should make alt country hearts swoon.

On songs like “Fallen Days” it sits just above the kick drum and the swirl of an organ, vulnerable, but lifted by what I keep coming back to, the harmony of the others. Then there’s his harmonica. He blows it hard, eyes closed, pulling all the dynamics out of it he can. The harp is so close to the voice that the player better believe what he blows. Anything less quickly falls flat. Tom believes it. Speaking of that kick drum, Aimee Zoe Stubbs, plays between a cross of a revival tent tambourine shaker and some old country drummer. The great D.J. Fontana or W.S. Holland come to mind as I listen to her lay down those deceptively simple sounding rhythms. Those shuffle beats and brushes don’t let up at all and I g-u-a-r-a-n-t-e-e you that she’s smiling while she does it too. She’s twice (at least by me) been crammed into the KBCS studio space with her drum and a handful of sticks and has kicked up the energy all around proving why drummers don’t need solos to show how good they are. The newish girl here (at least in this particular line-up) is Moe Provencher. Mandolin-er, producer and a table thumping bassist. I love the bass, it’s the step in the two and nothing puts a pretty girl in some guy’s arms quicker on a hardwood floor than a good one. Now Moe is quite a talent on her own and her last solo album was a favorite of mine, but in the studio with The Starlings, and keeping in the tradition of the best stoic bass players, Moe sat to the side and kept the anchor down. A band can only aspire to good without a rock steady bass player. Give them one who can really play and it frees the others from the downward pull of gravity. It’s been said you don’t rock it if you can swing it and Moe makes me twitch. Frankly, the whole album makes me twitch. Its rumored, due to Sun bursts, that the northern lights are coming south this week. “Bright Light” seems to be our Summer preview.


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Honky Tonk, Music, Pop, Radio, Rock and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Starlings – A Bright Light

  1. Pingback: The Best Albums of 2010; or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Pick 10 Albums « The Real Mr. Heartache

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