By: Martin Halo
A flickering red bulb is the only recognizable characteristic of The Annex, an ailing, dank rock haven in Manhattan's Lower East Side. If it wasn't for the thump of a drummer's right foot, The Annex would be just another dark storefront. But, on this particular night, her swinging doors lead you into a world where outlaws run free and tattooed cowboys have a refreshing attitude on seniority. The blues is buried within every chord change and echoing solo, while the influence of modern songwriters rounds the melodies. The band's hair hangs long and their one-liners are the perfect mix of schoolboy arrogance and nomadic distance. If their swagger doesn't realign your equilibrium then their licks will. California has its share of flashbacks but when five Atlantic Coast musicians warm their guitars to an Open G, pushing the precision of riff-based boogie and pull off harmonically graceful tongue wrangling, the doors to our hopes jar open slightly.
New Jersey's The Parlor Mob are virtual unknowns to the public and journalists alike but they seem destined for big things. Their debut record, And You Were A Crow (released May 6 on Roadrunner Records) was celebrated with a month long residency at The Annex that wrapped at the beginning of May. Fresh off a national tour with Nicole Atkins, this return serenade is bittersweet because this will be the last time they will be just ours.
Mark Melicia (vox), Paul Ritchie (guitars), David Rosen (guitars), Sam Bey (drums) and Nick Villapiano (bass) are part of a retro-rock revival that is flooding inward from both sides of our fine country. Oakland, CA has blessed us with Howlin Rain and while 3000 miles away, The Parlor Mob sparkles with a similar light.
Unfortunately, big rock balls and serious chops don't always get you the golden ticket. As the songs that would fill The Parlor Mob's debut took shape, Capitol Records got the band in a contractual vice that became complicated during company downsizing and staff shakeups.
"We were with Capitol for about seven months, I don't think it was even a year," says Paul Ritchie, their lanky, stiff-lipped guitar player. "We were just basically left hanging and then they were bought out by Virgin Records. There was a whole bunch of shit that was going on within the label and we didn't know any of it until we hired proper management. The A&R guy over there just basically up and quit before everybody got fired. For a while we were completely in the dark."
Roadrunner Records stepped in during the summer of 2007 to help bring their debut to light. The saga of the past six years is explored on the record's opener, "Hard Times."
Speaking our minds but nobody cares.
Some people got it so good it just ain't fair.
No money in my pocket, so you know it is hard to make a move.
We live tough, we die tough, but it ain't our place to choose
"It is kind of for everybody, not just for us. It is not our anthem. It's for anybody our age who is struggling to do what they are passionate about," offers drummer Sam Bey.
David Rosen by Rod Snyder
Ritchie continues, "With us being signed once already to being dropped to having to completely find a whole new group of people to work with, from our manager to our lawyer, to getting the songs prepared and finally making a record, it was a long hard process for all of us. It was a lengthy time. There were times when it was frustrating, but the relationship with Roadrunner has been great so far. We got to pick our own producer and we got to pick our own artwork. Roadrunner has been very responsive to our creative concerns and the things we have to say. They allow us to keep our creative aspect in the forefront."
The result of their unhinged resilience is a record that unearthed the core of everything modern rock had buried. "Hard Times" opens the debut with a blistering mix of feedback-riddled guitars, heavy riffs and wailing vocals. "Dead Wrong" and "Everything You Are Breathing For" follow suit before leading into the bitchy antics of "Kids." "When I Was An Orphan" is a welcome tempo change spearheaded by Dave Rosen's backwoods licks reminiscent of Jack White. "Real Hard Headed" assaults the skull before settling into the eight-minute opus "Tide of Tears." And You Were A Crow sports concise, shattering guitar solos, hypnotic rhythms, and boogie stomps. But, the tone and arrangements on wax are a far cry from the band's live experimentation in the bars of the Northeast. One man ignited this stratospheric vision and his name is Jacquire King.
Play Hard And Play Loud
It has been a little over six months since producer Jacquire King walked away from Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC last October following a two-month tracking session with The Parlor Mob, who kept creating music even as technicians removed the gear around them. Off-the-cuff lap steel, tambourine and country-boy vocals lingered as the sessions faded to black.
The Parlor Mob by GP Photo
Time is tight for King in the spring months of 2008. His industry notoriety came from his re-implementing a style of recording that focuses on live performances rather then layered tracking and overdubs. Beginning with Tom Waits, his performance-based projects have included Modest Mouse, Kings of Leon and eventually the Mob. King is now in Nashville, again living with the Kings of Leon as they craft their fourth full-length album.
"I originally was turned onto The Parlor Mob when they were in a development deal with Capitol," says King. "I was interested in what they were doing and was interested in making a record."
"We had a mutual friend who had done a record with him who was a fan of his engineering," says Paul Ritchie, "and because he was interested for quite some time we felt he really wanted to do it. We only wanted to work with a person who really wanted to make a record with us."
"They are very much a live rock 'n' roll band," says King. "That is where most bands of that nature do their time and survive - on the road, in rehearsals or playing shows. In my eyes they are an important band, and I do feel they can be the same for the public. They play a vintage style of rock 'n' roll but it is [also] very modern. Not only have they listened to the classic recordings but they love modern bands as well. I think they are an important link to what is the essence of rock 'n' roll and what is to become a modern expression of it."
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