J.D. Reager + Good Luck Dark Star – The Repechage + You’ll Need It

January 01, 1970

(Makeshift + Shangri-La Projects)

 

www.makeshiftmusic.com

 

www.shangrilaprojects.com

 

Memphis’
music history extends not just deep, but broad. In addition to the early rock
sounds of Sun Records, the soul of Hi and Stax Records, the snarling lo-fi rock
of the Grifters and the Oblivians, and even the nasty hip-hop of Three-Six
Mafia, the city has a strong pop legacy, with bands as cult-big as Big Star and
the Scruffs or as obscure as any of the garage-bound acts playing the frat
circuit during the ‘60s. Since then, the form has been taken up by different
artists over the years, including two performers who have spent nearly a decade
playing Bluff City clubs: J.D. Reager, who has performed with a variety of acts
over the years, is finally releasing his solo debut, and Bret Krock, who toiled
with the power trio Eighty Katie earlier this decade, is make his own debut as
Good Luck Dark Star.

 

The obvious touchstone for Reager is Matthew Sweet; his
vocals on opener “Water” recall the Midwestern singer/songwriter/Winona fan
very closely, but where Sweet has his head in the past, Reager’s is, well, somewhere
else. The Repechage crackles with
ideas and ambience. “Panic,” which shows off Reager’s upper register, two-steps
its lament against a guitar that wants to be a bagpipe, and “I Can’t Decide”
pogos on a spiky chorus and a needling organ that wants to get to the next
song. Venturing into lite-country territory, “Knoxville Song” is nudged
gently along by Tim Regan’s lap steel. The stand-out here may be “No One Wants to Know,” which glides on a patient, pointed guitar theme and fluidly segues into
Justin Jordan’s outta-nowhere sax solo that may be the album’s best, most
devastating moment. There’s grit and dirt in these songs – what sounds like
lived experiences rather than pop constructs.

 

That there are more obvious historical precedents in Krock’s
first album as Good Luck Dark Star shouldn’t diminish his accomplishment on You’ll Need It, which was originally
self-released but is getting a wider digital release via local label Shangri-La
Projects. With energy to spare, Eighty Katie devoted itself to heart-on-sleeve
pop songs about unattainable girls and the Who’s Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy. GLDS has more to do with life’s
harsher disappointments and ELO’s Out of
the Blue
. He’s not just making the old sound new, but space-age: Especially
on the lower-key second side, Kevin Cubbins’ production is airy and open,
creating a roomy ambience for Krock’s layered vocals and some melodies
inherited from Chris Bell. Softer, keys-based songs like “Good Luck and
“Phenomenology” sound weightless, while the guitars on “Mirror Ball” and “Last
Hurrah” sound jet-propelled. “Map of the Sun,” with its arcing George Harrison
guitars, is immediately catchy but only deceptively sunny: That chorus will
stick with you for days until you realize how heartbreaking it is. Like Reager,
Krock is using pop’s energy and effervescence to explore darker ideas about
isolation and emotional drift. Every night he tells himself he is the cosmos.

 

Ultimately, both of these albums have ideas to spare and
songs that never quite go where you expect, which only makes them more
rewarding with each listen. That neither sound like any of their Memphis peers or
forebears only makes the sound even more Memphian.

 

Standout Tracks: “No One Wants to Know,” “Map of the Sun” STEPHEN M. DEUSNER

 

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