On their third album, Mr. Airplane Man have finally hit their stride. "I love the way it hits me/Down in my soul," frontwoman Margaret Garrett sings playfully on the title track, acknowledging the band's many mentors, who range from bluesmen like Skip James and Howlin' Wolf, on through to such '60s groups as the Sonics and the Wailers, to contemporary garage bands like the Oblivians and the Lyres. But Garrett and drummer Tara McManus hardly rehash those old favorites. With C'mon DJ, they've somehow forged a thoroughly modern sound from elements of each.
Granted, bluesy based two-piece bands seem to be the rage these days. Yet Garrett and McManus take a different tack, preferring a more languid, swirling approach than the typical minimalist swagger. Songs like the tom-tom driven "Don't Know Why" and the propulsive "Wait for Your Love" just sound thicker than a two-person combo oughtta, while their take on Howlin' Wolf's "Asked for Water" unwinds like a trance-inducing Mississippi hill-country lament.
Never mind that these girls are from Boston. When it comes to Memphis, Mr. Airplane Man tend to wear their influences on their sleeve. Garrett's vox moves into Jessie Mae Hemphill and Lorette Velvette territory, then eases toward Dusty Springfield-era soul, before taking on a Goodies-styled garage sound. With her primal beats and melodic backing vocals, McManus might draw inevitable comparisons to the Velvet Underground's Mo Tucker and the Gories' Peggy O'Neill; unlike those drummers, however, she uses an organ to add vital harmonies to the mix.
This latest release completes a natural evolution that began with Red Lite (recorded locally at Monsieur Jeffrey Evans' home studio) and continued through Moanin', which was mixed at Easley-McCain Recording Studio. Also produced at Easley-McCain by local garage-rock guru Greg Cartwright, C'mon DJ relies less on covers and more on well-crafted originals. "I'll take you by the hand/And make you understand," Garrett growls on "Make You Mine," making her point perfectly clear: with C'mon DJ, Mr. Airplane Man move that much closer to their musical heroes. -- Andria Lisle
Mr. Airplane Man will perform at a CD-release party for C'Mon DJ at the Hi-Tone Café Thursday, January 29th, with the Dutch Masters.
"Punk rock girls and Lone Star beer means everything will be okay," goes a key lyric in local band Lucero's live staple "My Heart's On Fire." Subteens frontman Mark Akin, who sometimes works the bar at the Hi-Tone Café, has probably stood at the back of that Midtown club many times watching drunken patrons hoist their beers in celebration when that line pops up. So he stole it, using the lyric as a launching pad for a perfect little sarcastic accounting of a typical slice of Memphis nightlife: "Punk rock girls and Lone Star beer means everyone will run their mouths in here," Akin muses on "Mouth Shut," the opening cut on the Subteens' long-delayed second album, So That's What the Kids Are Calling It .
Four years after making their album debut with Burn Your Cardigan, one of the city's most popular live bands returns with an invigorating 10-song, under-30-minute follow-up, recorded at Cooper-Young studio Young Avenue Sound [see Music Feature, page 33]. As on Burn Your Cardigan, Akin is still writing songs about getting drunk in Midtown bars but this time with a detachment that yields more humor and insight than the first time around.
But Akin and bandmates "Bubba" John Bonds and Terrence Bishop also get out of the city, most winningly on the mock-triumphant "This Is It." A New York-set song where the title is presumably a cheeky reference to the Strokes, "This Is It" is a rock-band success story that includes missed shows, pissed-off agents, greedy record execs, and subsistence dinners of franks and beans. How could any rock-and-roll fan deny a song that rhymes "keep it together with pills and marijuana" with "pass out in a hotel with a couple of the Donnas"?
The Subteens put this strong collection of songs across with a sound that's made them a beloved fixture on the local rock scene for years: the durable, boozy, populist, punk rock of a band for whom the Ramones and AC/DC seem to be held in equal esteem. -- Chris Herrington