Indie rockers Mount Carmel hail from Columbus, Ohio, and, like many things Midwestern, nearly fooled me into thinking they were one thing when they were really something else. Their handle sounded to me like they would be hipster pop or some other ironically-named alt-rock-nuvo-art-thing. But noooo – they are straight-up, four-chord seventies rock, those sneaks. As if I weren’t already thrown off enough, once they launched into their opening track, “Swaggs”, and I heard those gritty vocals coming through a classic condenser mic, I assumed that these guys were fifteen years older than they actually are. Once I saw their picture, despite the facial hair, I saw that these dudes are actually quite young. Dang, fooled again.
After cruising through that first track and going “well, that was a cool tune…very seventies…wonder what they’ll do next,” I prepared for some style shift, thinking that “Swaggs” might be the only track to bring that kind of dirty, post-hippie groove. Nope. Twenty seconds into the title track, I realized that Mount Carmel intended to take the listener back to 1973 and stay there.
There’s no sense of irony about this stylistic choice in their music. It’s obvious that this power trio absolutely loves everything about that post-summer-of-love rock sound from writing to lyrics to art to production. Lyrical content generally revolves around admonishment for poor behavior (usually aimed at the anonymous woman who is the object of said lyrics) or instructions/invitation for a woman to put her hands/lips on the singer. The album art looks like it’s straight from a combination of a sketch pad and old print shop type-set logos, with grainy, color-shifted photos filling in the blank space. The guitar sound generally consists of one of two sounds: dirty and, well, not dirty (the latter is rare). There’s no wah-wah or strange effects pedals involved anywhere; everything stays stripped-down. It’s also (wonderfully) obvious to anyone with recording experience that the majority of this music was recorded live in the studio. That is, there’s no sound replacement (which happens to the drum tracks of virtually every hard rock/metal band these days, and many pop bands rarely use real drums in the first place) and likely no click track used. The drum kit sounds like what playing a live kit in a room actually sounds like, and there are little tempo shifts that match the emotive changes in the songs, so everything sounds natural. It grants Real Women a lot of soul.
There are no loser tracks on this album. Indeed, every song has such a good feel and is played with such authenticity that it makes one want to go jump into a pair of hand-sewn bell-bottoms and say things like “solid.” The flipside here is that, with a couple of exceptions, the consistency of tone and writing style produces a certain degree of sameness, and despite spinning (and enjoying) the album many times, I often find myself lost as to what song is playing and having to take a look at the track list. This band seems talented enough that a little more variety of sound could be provided – think about bands like Zeppelin, who certainly had a recognizable sound, but always shook things up with some very different material on at least 25%-30% of the tracks on an album. That’s often the difference between a good album and a great one.
And that’s really what it comes down to – that, although not great, this is a really, really good album. I like the odd rests in the coda of “Rooftop,” and find myself singing all of the words to tunes like “Choose Wisely” and “Lullabye” (probably the strongest track and an excellent choice for an album-closer). I’ve spun it in my car many times rather than big-budget releases that I’ve collected as of late, and that says a lot about the music’s ability to connect with those of us who really love rock ‘n’ roll. It may not be a new classic, but it’s soul-filled and worthy of making the guys in Foghat or Bad Company wish they’d written a lot of the tunes on it. Something good is happening in Columbus.
File under: awesome seventies rock ‘n’ roll from an indie band that deserves your support
You can stream a couple of tracks, “Real Women” and “Oh Louisa”, here: http://sloanerangermusic.com/?p=7706