[Editor's Note: For a change, this week's print edition features two Homespun reviews written by RFT Music Senior Writer Christian Schaeffer, because why not?]
Mikey Wehling & the Reverbs - Nests in Tree EP
Since releasing his Reverbs trilogy in 2010 and 2011, guitarist and vocalist Mikey Wehling has shed some of his lo-fi funk leanings for a little more basement R&B flavor. The groove is still very much in the heart of these recordings, but preset drum machines and Casio breakdowns are slicked over with full-sounding electric pianos and tonewheel organs, and his backing band the Reverbs (on this recording, LeClare Stevenson on keys and bass, aided by Adult Fur's Ryan McNeely on programming and backing vocals) helps fill in the blanks.
Despite Wehling's fixation on the term, there's less reverb to mask the vocals this time around, and they come across clearly and confidently on a track such as "Ohh, Ohh," complete with some capable falsetto. The drum programming takes a few steps toward modernity this time as well -- the familiar clicks and pops are still present, but they're layered with a synthy squelch that splits the difference between Wehling's retro fetishism and McNeely's more hip-hop inclined beats.
McNeely, for his part, mostly holds back and lets Wehling and his smooth, jazz-inflected grooves steer the course. Those chops come through on the title track's extended guitar solo, which orients itself somewhere between George Benson's Breezin' and Steely Dan's Countdown to Ecstasy. It's a thin but fertile piece of sonic real estate, and Wehling and company mine it for all its worth.
[Click through to page two for the Wax Wine review.]
Natalie Huggins has worn a few hats around St. Louis' music community: She's been a keyboardist for a late-period Bureau lineup, a guest vocalist with Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra, a talent booker and a music educator. With Wax Wine, Huggins and her piano take center stage, leading an orchestral-pop trio that features Liz Myers on cello and her husband Greg Myers offering light kit work.
Conservatory rock is nothing new, but the trick that Wax Wine pulls off well is to marry technique with emotion -- and emotion tends to tip the scales on these tunes. "Mole" takes the pretty conventional tale of a stunted relationship to dramatic heights thanks to a turgid arrangement; lyrically, the song could lend itself to a punk-rock kiss-off. Here, it feels weighed down. Romantic disappointment gets a lighter touch on "The Bells and the Boys," with the titular bells and a punctuated cello counterpoint to give lift to Huggins' clear, airy vocals. The ringing celeste that drives "Lost" may be reminiscent of a fairy tale, but the earthy, resonant cello lines and nonstop percussion take the song someplace darker. That dynamic presents an essential tension for these songs, which highlight a bare lyrical soul wrapped in classical finery.