In classic EvilSponge form I first learned
about Athens band Annie And Her Guns when we stumbled into
a show at Lennys.
At the time, I enjoyed their set with it's blend of echoed
country-ish instrumentation and straight up rock sounds. They
were quite impressive, and I looked forward to listening to
their debut album.
Recorded primarily as a three piece with various guest musicians, Outlaw
For Your Love provides an effective demonstration
of the different aspects of the band. In general, Annie
Merkley’s voice shimmers throughout, acting as counterpoint
to the waves of music. Her voice reminds me a little of
Fontaine Toups’ from Versus and
Containe, although Merkley’s vocals tend to be more forceful
and prominent. The backing musicians are likewise quite
talented, as they provide touches throughout the songs
which highlight the voice without overwhelming it.
The album begins with I’ll Take My Chances, which is filled with an
archaic echo over which the voice lilts powerfully in concert with a distinctively
picked banjo. The music is not really as old timey as it may sound on first
description; rather it reminds me a bit of Parker & Lily (remember them) minus
all the extra reverb. It’s vaguely haunting and yet quite nice.
Later on, My Love, My Lover is one of the best songs on the record.
More upbeat and with more skittered percussion, the echo of the guitars combines
with a doubled vocal line to sound more modern. And as it swells towards a
conclusion, the fullness of the music makes the song more haunted and more
lovely than anything earlier.
The wall of sound dissipates with Come On,
which feels more like a straight up rock song than earlier material. Again
Merkley’s voice is prominent, although here she comes across as more like PJ
Harvey or perhaps early Liz Phair. Nevertheless, drummer Taylor Coggin deserves
some recognition. His style is not particularly heavy or busy; rather it seems
to focus on precisely laying down enough of a beat that the music is easy to
follow while not overwhelming the song with martial fills and cymbal clanging.
The band shows their Athens roots on Like This, which shows off a nice jangly guitar line against more forceful drumming. The music is loud enough that the voice for once sounds more like another instrument than the focal point.
The earlier old time sounds returns on My Love Needs No Words. This
is a fully realized dirge, with a prominent low keyboard carrying the main
chording structure. Merkley sings over this, until the ostensible chorus when
other voices join to sing, "My Love Needs No Words". After a couple of choruses, the music swells with a higher organ sound which gives the song a little more urgency.
Title track Outlaw For Your Love brings back the picked banjo and whirling background sounds under the voice line. It's perhaps the most retro country song on the album, enhanced by an almost claustrophobic echo. As the tune picks up speed and backing instrumentation, it eventually begins to sound almost like early Knife
in the Water. Towards the end of the album, the band presents Searchin On, which has a nice blues rock element. Filled with dueling guitars (one prominent and fierce, the other a lower rhythmic strumming), Merkley's forceful near scream, and some almost frenetic drumming, the song is in some ways a deviation from the band's sound, yet it still remains focused and interesting.
The album completes with Drivin All Night. It begins with some nicely echoed banjo arpeggios. Doubled vocals enhance Merkley's voice along with accents from a pedal steel guitar. It again has that retro feel of the best songs on the album, combined with the odd phrasing that made My Love, My Lover so very attractive. It's a lovely end to the record.
I only have two real complaints against the album. First, despite the charms of its deliberate style, after a while it can become a bit claustrophobic. This perception is enhanced by my second real issue: some of the songs go on a bit long. With each song running around the 5 minute mark, making your way through the entire 10 song album in one dedicated listen can be a bit daunting. On the other hand, as music to come back to or that goes on in the background, it’s quite nice.
Despite these flaws, Outlaw For Your Love is an entertaining record. The music is compelling in its simplicity, while Merkley's voice is chameleon-like in its ability to take on different tones. This is not really the type of album that demands the listener's full and rapt attention, although the best parts of it get it anyway, And the odd combination of rock and echo gives the best songs a lovely quality that is a little strange, yet quite beautiful. And when it ends, the last lingering notes hang in the air briefly, leaving me wanting to hear just a little more.