Second Lovers, Wishers, Dreamers & Liars
These days, it’s getting hard to throw a rock in this city without hitting a roots-rock/indie-folk-country band, and while it’s true that a large number of ’em are good, it can be tempting to get jaded and cynical each time a new one comes along. After listening (repeatedly) to Second Lovers’ debut full-length, Wishers, Dreamers & Liars, however, I sincerely hope that more-of-the-same familiarity doesn’t make people pass this band by, because that’d be a sad, stupid mistake.
I think a large part of why Wishers works so damn well, I have to say, comes down to singer/guitarist Nico Morales, who bitterly growls his way through song after song like he never cracks a smile (and going by the promo photos I’ve seen, that may actually be the case). The man’s got some major demons to deal with, it seems, and Wishers feels like his own way of taking them on.
It helps, of course, that he’s got a surprisingly husky, rough-edged, road-worn voice for somebody so young. There’s a resemblance to icon Steve Earle, believe it or not, particularly on plaintive opening track “Whiskey Woman,” with its rumbling, train’s-a-comin’ rhythm and plaintive violin (or is that technically a fiddle, since it’s a roots-rock song? No clue…). There’s a cool, Son Volt-esque phrasing to the track, too, something that gives all of the album an easy, gentle swing.
I don’t mean to downplay the rest of the band, mind you. They’re all very, very talented musicians, the kind that know how to step back and play the part they need to play, rather than showboating, and it works wonderfully. In particular, violinist/singer Ashley Parker’s vocals serve as a great, great foil to Morales, particularly on “Take You Home,” which is sweet and warm and sees Parker and Morales trade vocals like a less-intense Finnegan.
The song almost swipes the lead-in melody from R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” and really, that’s pretty apt, since this song reminds me less of contemporary roots-rock and more of homespun Athens college rock from the mid-’80s, back before anybody really gave much thought to giving that whole “alt-country” thing a name. It’s partly due to Parker’s somber, uninflected (yet beautiful) voice, which has kind of an everywoman quality to it and brings to mind Jenny Lewis or Rachel Warren of Palomar. I find myself wishing to be able to hear her violin more prominently, too, but honestly, if I did it’d probably be too much; as it stands, it’s great to be able to catch enough of it to love it and want more.
“Take You Home”‘s an anomaly, really, set in the midst of a set of solidly rootsy, folk-countryish tunes. There’s “Moonshine Hill,” jangly and rough-edged and melancholy, the kind of song that’s perfect for quiet nights alone at the bar and is one of the album’s absolute highlights, and “By The River,” which is a quiet and knocked-down bit of folk, just Nicolas Morales and his guitar in a threadbare, echoing room. “Gunslinger,” for its part, is full-on punkified country-rawk, blazing on past with blues-metal guitars carving a deep gouge out of a thundering, stampeding rhythm.
Throughout, there’s a downtrodden, end-of-the-affair vibe to the band’s sound, with only a few glimmers of happiness or devil-may-care hope peeking through, like in the jaunty, friendly “I’m Your Huckleberry” or in “Daydreamer,” which is insistent and honest and lovestruck, barreling through the night to be with somebody, consequences be damned. It’s right back to the downbeat side after, though, with “Coals & Pearls,” where Morales is seemingly admonishing his would-be lover not to visit his grave once he’s died and not to feel bad because he passed on waiting for them.
My favorite tracks, though, are two of the bleakest. First, there’s “Tired Man,” which is the sound of a man who’s given up, who’s gone past the point of no return and just wants to be done with the relationship. It’s haunting and beautiful and so full of exhausted, weary pain it practically bleeds out the speakers.
Then there’s “Last Call,” which is both the last song on the album and the end of a long-suffering (seven-year?) love, and which Morales likens to last call at a dingy bar. It’s the notice you get that it’s beyond time to be gone, and while that’s not a good thing for the album, it makes sense for the end of a relationship. The bitterness in Morales’s voice as he declares “All that was you / has become bad news” is made even more poignant by the feeling of resignation to it all.
Overall, Wishers, Dreamers & Liars is heartfelt and warm and intensely personal, but at the same time, it’s a breezy, unassuming listen, one that doesn’t intrude but instead sits back and lets you come ’round. The band’s members are well aware of what they can do, and they don’t give a damn about blowing the doors off unnecessarily. They know they’ve got you, either way.