Next Friday, June 16, folk rock group Midnight North will release their second album, Under The Lights. Recorded by David Simon-Baker (Los Lobos, ALO, Jackie Greene, Mother Hips), the album is both a reverence of the collective musical canon of the past, and an offering of styles totally fresh and new, created by a band that is paving the way ahead for the future of Americana music. Above all, it’s superb collection of new material from this four-piece group, who are also hitting the road this summer to tour in support.
The album takes off at a sprint, with the title track “Under The Lights,” a real road song that starts things off on a modern country feel. Then come just about one of the best songs coming out today, “Playing a Poor Hand Well.” A little soulful, a little folky, a little danceable, and a beautiful blending of all the instruments in the band’s arsenal on this record: organ, with some great horn interplay. And, on top of it all, crooned passionately by singer Elliott Peck.
In fact, the whole record benefits from the beauty of multiple stellar voices, and the album is split on vocal lead duty track for between members Peck and lead guitar player, Grahame Lesh. Whereas Peck’s voice is husky but also sparkling at the peaks, Lesh’s is just as satisfying in his grittier style, and on tracks like “Back to California,” it cracks with exasperated emotion. Of course, to be found everywhere on the record is the expert level background harmonies that seem to just fit with any kind of song.
Tracks like “Greene County” and “Little Black Dog” slow things down to a very folky feel, but the former, does so with a brief showcase of Lesh’s stellar guitar playing, which continues strongly on the next track, “Roamin’.” On this one, the instrumentation trades off well with some cool organ and tight drum work. And if you’ve ever seen Midnight North live, it’s no secret that the playing chops of all involved are capitalized upon to the fullest extent.
The album hides nothing in the way of Midnight North embracing their musical influences. The chorus of “Everyday” sounds like it might have been written back in the 80s by Lesh’s father, Phil, and the cozily moody “Headline From Kentucky” has some clear Fleetwood Mac inspiration. But this record more so comes as testimony to their forging of truly unique, fresh material. Across all of the tracks, when you think you have the band pegged for a style or a genre, all of a sudden a chorus, or a new solo or new instrument altogether, diverts the music boldly but smartly to a new sound and feel. This speaks, no doubt, to a sophisticated sense of songwriting ability among the members of this group.
On Under The Lights, Midnight North is telling their story, raw and unabashedly, about coming up as a band on the road and pushing for success against the odds: always hustling, putting every ounce of effort and passion into every gig. As they sing themselves on the record: “You’ll be playing until the cards come out right…sometimes it’s about playing a poor hand well.” There’s no guarantees, in anything in this life, but especially the music business, but if you work for it, you can make something extraordinary.
Article by Miles Hurley
Midnight North – “The Highway Song”