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Middle Brother

Middle Brother – 2011 (Partisan)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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In 1972, three relatively unknown young singer-songwriters were prodded to commit their collective talents to vinyl and produced one of the most legendary records in alt.-country history. Fast-forward to 2011, and three new alt.-country rockers entered the studio to no real fanfare, and in the spirit of that epic recording nearly 40 years ago by The Flatlanders, quietly poured their individual talents into a collective group known as Middle Brother. Deer Tick's John McCauley, Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith and Delta Spirit's Matthew Vasquez are still trying to carve out their bands' niches in a crowded alt.-country field, but their current one-off project as a trio could ultimately be - like Flatlanders Joe Ely, Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock - what fans will remember in the decades to come.

Raw, immediate and compelling, Middle Brother's 12 songs also bear a simplicity not unlike 2010's Sean Watkins-Jon Foreman collaboration Fiction Family. Yet the individual talents - songwriting and vocally - are distinctive enough to carry each artist's mark.

The easygoing vibe of McCauley's gravelly voiced Portland blends perfectly with Goldsmith's lonely flip-on-the-recorder at 2 a.m. solo cut Wilderness. But it's not all vibey alt.-country. The trio deftly pull off early Motown-esque harmonies while Vasquez wails like John Lennon on Someday and crank the guitars on McCauley's Me, Me, Me then slip into a folksy Crosby, Stills and Nash feel on the opener Daydreaming and finally swap lead vocals on the mellow closer Million Dollar Bill.