Monday, August 18, 2008

The Child Ballads. Cheekbone Hollows (Pop. 1/2 Life) EP (Gypsy Eyes, 2008)

"Your heart goes boom/ My heart goes boom, too/ We walk into the room/ All the wallpaper comes in bloom."

I think I speak for everyone who ever heard Jonathan Fire*Eater's Tremble Under Boom Lights EP when I say that Tremble Under Boom Lights fucking ruled, man. The dirty garage rock buzz, the fuzztone organ, the huge drums, the paranoid panoramic lyrics, and especially Stewart Lupton's voice: raspy, sexy, insinuating, confident to the point of cocky. And awesome, especially on that EP's lead off track "The Search for Cherry Red." The way Lupton sang about damaged Hollywood starlets, valuable ashtrays, and overwrought studio parties made "The Search for Cherry Red" the soundtrack to every adventure I wished I'd ever had but didn't.

Alas, after one indifferently-received major label release, 1997's full-length Wolf Songs for Lambs, Jonathan Fire*Eater broke up, taking their sound with them. Rats. Most of the band went on to form the oft-lauded Walkmen, while singer Lupton -- in my opinion Jonathan Fire*Eater's best and signature feature -- went on to do not much of anything at all. But now Lupton and his voice are back with the Child Ballads, who released their first EP this past spring on Washington, DC's Gypsy Eyes Records ( And it's a welcome return.

Cheekbone Hollows (Pop. 1/2 Life) is a compact six song introduction to the Child Ballads which never wears out its welcome. First off, the most this new band has in common with Jonathan Fire*Eater is Lupton; the Child Ballads aren't some sort of rehashed retread or an attempt to regain past glory. Where Lupton's previous band refitted vintage garage and soul for a more modern and jaded ear, the Child Ballads have a more innocent and easygoing approach. The sound is a lot more loose and jangly, and has sort of a Sticky Fingers-era Stonesy vibe. The folk and blues influences can't be dismissed. This isn't heavy music, but it's never boring.

The strongest song in a strong collection is the title cut. Kicking off with a shambling boom-chicka-boom beat, the primarily acoustic track provides a solid setting for Lupton's vocals, which still sound great. Throughout the song, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Judah Bauer adds some nice chicken-scratch rhythm guitar, which gives it a nice Stax swing. Elsewhere, Betsy Wright's viola and airy backing vocals give "They Hunt Us We Run" a mournful, autumnal quality, and EP closer "Laughter From the Rafters" is rollicking singalong that ushers out the Child Ballads' opening bid in style.

In short, it's great to hear Stewart Lupton again, especially at the helm of a project with as much promise as the Child Ballads. Here's looking forward to the full length, and hoping that this time there will be more than one.