Album Review: Those Darlins – Those Darlins
Sound advice from Those Darlins, who burst on to the scene in 2009, having opened for The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. They subsequently captivated the masses at SXSW and Bonnaroo with their blend of country, rock, and punk, wrapped up in miniskirts and duct-taped shitkickers. For all their rock and roll swagger, however, the hearts of this Murfreesboro trio lie with the sounds of Hank Williams and the Carter Family; it’s their mutual adoration for these artists that brought Nikki, Jessi, and Kelley Darlin together in 2006.
The Darlins’ affinity for classic country music isn’t always at the forefront of their self-titled full-length debut album. First single and the album’s lead-off track “Red Light Love” is Buzzcocks-esque, while the rocking “Hung Up on Me,” with its opening line being a snarled “Pick up the goddamn phone!” is more riot grrrl than Ryman. However, the rootsy “Glass to You” reveals their debt to the oldtime sound, while Nikki’s deep and soulful voice on the sweet “Mama’s Heart” is vaguely reminiscent of Sara Carter.
The Carter Family, who would post flyers advertising their performances as “morally good,” would probably approve of cautionary tale “DUI or Die” even if they might shy away from the advice offered within: “Remember if you wanna drink and drive/Better find a boy to take you home for the night.” In a more overt nod to tradition, Those Darlins cover two Carter Family songs. “Cannonball Blues” gets a touch of the ’60s girl group sound a la The Shangri-Las or The Angels as the Darlins insert “ba ba ba”s in place of Maybelle’s guitar licks, and “Who’s That Knockin’ At My Window” is transformed into a rollicking barnburner with frenetic guitar and drums, but somehow remains immediately recognizable as a Carter Family song.
The album’s final cover and closing track is a fairly straightforward version of Uncle Dave Macon’s “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy” that’s truer to the original than their Carter covers, but thanks to handclaps and singalong choruses, can be appreciated by an audience who wouldn’t otherwise spare a minute for Macon’s 78rpm recording.
The Darlins employ a wide variety of guest stars from all musical walks of life, from the Sparrow Quartet’s classically trained cellist Ben Sollee to the heretofore unknown but probably very illustrious “JTitty” on background vocals and belly slaps. These ladies are no slouches in the picking department themselves; with Nikki on the baritone ukulele while Jessi and Kelley alternate between guitar and bass, the record hums with the riotous energy of a live performance, and the listener can’t help but be pulled along for the ride.
It’s really hard to not like Those Darlins. Their music is whiskey-soaked fun—even a song about the hardships of poverty is smile-inducing thanks to barroom piano and catchy pop hook, not to mention its goofy title: “Snaggle Tooth Mama”—and no song displays this better than “The Whole Damn Thing.” A poptastic ode to drunken chicken consumption, it’s absolutely ridiculous, and also one of the catchiest songs of the year to date. Simple enough to sing along after one listen and irresistible no matter what genre you want to file it under, “The Whole Damn Thing” is very possibly the greatest song ever written about boozy binge-eating.
Those Darlins may be an acquired taste for those who didn’t spend their adolescence in their room listening to angry chick rock (guilty as charged), and hardcore country music purists may turn up their noses at the Darlins’ interpretations of the classics; but those whose music collection boasts an equal amount of Dock Boggs and Bikini Kill will fall in love.
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