(Listen while you read!)
Longevity is a rare bird in Indiana's underground music scene. I can't tell you how often I've only just grown attached to a band to watch its members diverge to pursue other interests. The reasons for this are many. In today's DIY recording climate, it's easy for musicians to slap a name on a band and release a batch of material without any intention of the project existing beyond the recordings. It's also safe to say that Indiana has long suffered from a transience in its music scene with many projects moving elsewhere for a perceived greener pasture.
The other sad truth is that any sort of stable income from a career as a professional musician is a long shot at best. It's easy to show up for a paycheck if you're The Rolling Stones, but the daily grind of the independent midwestern Mozart is much less romantic. Whatever the reason, the simple fact is the bands that linger are limited. But as soon as you spot a trend, a counterpoint arrives to buck it. While dozens of bands have dissolved around them, Blue Moon Revue has spent the last 10+ years quietly toiling and honing an R&B-centric sound that has served as the backbone of great rock n' roll for decades.
The title of the band's latest EP Make it Reel references the analog recording process at play here. It's the first time BMR has recorded to tape, and the end result is the product of a lot of cooks in the kitchen. BMR's was one of the final recording sessions held at the recently shuttered Queensize Studios. Alex Kercheval tracked and produced the recordings to 24-track tape, before Tyler Watkins of Margot & The Nuclear So and So's handled the mixing. Alan Johnson, who served as producer of BMR's previous LP Phases, oversaw mastering at The Static Shack.
Make It Reel kicks off with the EP's homophonic title track. The cut feels ripped from the soundtrack of an iconic 1980s high school movie. Bassist Andy Salge takes the lead on vocals. The tone on guitarist Dave Sullivan's electric places the perfect touch of echo on a melody you will swear you've been humming for years. "Do What We Like" follows in a similar vein only this time with rhythm guitarist Matt Marshall at the helm on vocals.
The EP picks up energy on "Call It A Day" with Salge returning to lead vocals as a man possessed. This song has evolved quite a bit since it first appeared on a batch of Salge's home recordings entitled Shuffle. What began a couple of years ago as a toe-tapping, bass-heavy rhythm on synthesizer has expanded into a full blown rock anthem driven by Salge's guttural screams and Sullivan's slide play on guitar. The keys have moved from a focus to an accent. Tom Harold, known for his work with local blues stalwart Gordon Bonham, places a cherry on top with an impossibly gritty solo on harmonica.
"Fired Up" and closing track "Mad World" are two songs that had me dusting off my Derek Trucks Band records. Marshall lets go, dripping his soulful front man swagger all over the vocals and Sullivan really asserts himself on slide. Also, listen closely for drummer John Gray's delicious, Barry Whitesque backing vocals on "Fired Up." I always knew Gray was a beast on the rhythms, but I'm hoping his contribution on vocals is one that will carry over beyond Make It Reel. Sullivan has come along way on the slide in the last few years, making the style a centerpiece of his play with BMR and employing the lap steel on his new Nick Vote-led side project Jomberfox. Both the production on Marshall's spoken-word vocals and Sullivan's play on guitar move into a frenetic chaos at the end of "Mad World." This shift toward contained experimentation seems unlikely to have occurred on an earlier BMR release like Phases, though impeccable in its production and arrangements, often had the squeaky-clean feel of something manufactured in a vacuum. This isn't meant as a slight, simply a difference in aesthetic choice.
"Best of Luck" has a sing-along feel to it. If the song's lyrics and structure have a somewhat childish tone, it's with good reason. Several of BMR's band members have become parents in the last few years, and the track essentially functions as a letter to Salge's young daughter Nell. It makes perfect sense while these guys are continuing to produce the sounds they want to hear, they're beginning to create material that may interest their kids as well. BMR has grown into a family, literally and figuratively over the last decade. Salge and Sullivan are now brothers-in-law through marriage. The professional ties have long extended beyond the stage, as the band's core members butter their bread on the back of a successful painting service called Moon Glow Painters.
Through feast and famine, from Bloomington to Indy to Chicago and back again, Blue Moon Revue has remained a unit. I'm confident given, the right set of circumstances, that any one of this band's members could've went their separate ways years ago and made careers as session or touring musicians out of towns like Nashville or Austin. Yet at every turn they display a passionate unselfishness, from the decision to share lead vocal duties to their long-term commitment to the band itself. Fortunately for local listeners, they've chosen to make their home in Indy: build their families here, make music and paint here. It's a story we don't get to tell nearly often enough. See BMR at The Melody Inn this Wednesday, September 25 alongside Pravada, Jomberfox, Fort Wilson Riot, Clear Plastic Masks and Ranch Ghost.
Album artwork by Homeless Cop