Here at Reverb Raccoon, we have a simple goal: find good music and write something interesting about it. To that end, I have spent many hours browsing Bandcamp’s New Arrivals, searching for pearls in a sea of fallow oysters. Much of what I hear is either “less than optimal,” the term a former supervisor taught me to use in place of “bad,” or just doesn’t do it for me. I subscribe to the Phil Spector philosophy: if you’re not hooked in the first four measures, it isn’t going to happen. We’re not talking Mahler’s 5th here. As Eric Carmen said, “Hurry up and get to the chorus.”
But if I keep browsing and listening, I know that, like the blind squirrel who stumbles upon the occasional acorn, I will eventually click on that one song that sounds … right. Cue the Stragglers’ “River Song.”
The Stragglers are Teresa Dixon and Samara Cullen. Based in Melbourne, Australia, their music is coated with a layer of Oklahoma dust and has Mississippi clay beneath its fingernails. The songs were born at the nexus of country blues and gospel, on Highway 1 south of Rosedale.
Four of the five songs on their new EP, The Stragglers Demo, feature a simple arrangement with, I think, Samara on guitar and Teresa on banjo. And to those of you who bolted for the door when you heard the word “banjo,” just let me say, “Hang on a minute, chief.” Having grown up in the heart of the TVA country, I got my fill of the banjo – usually played by a college professor or high school history teacher – years ago. But the licks here are sincere and evocative. On “Weatherboard House,” the closest thing to bluegrass on the EP, we’re talking more Stringbean Akeman and less Earl Scruggs. Which is a Good Thing.
The EP closes with the a capella “420.” And, no, they’re not talking about a train. As my grandpa used to say, “If you don’t get, google it.”
Teresa and Samara also perform as solo artists. Their solo efforts comprise personal statements of, at the same time, strength and tenderness.
The Stragglers Demo is available for download on Bandcamp.
Bonus Track: “Dirt Track Girl,” from Teresa Dixon’s previous band, The Little Sisters. About having the county road department come out and seal the dirt road that runs by your house. Which is about as Rural American as experiences get.
Bonus Video: Here at Reverb Raccoon, we strive to educate as well as to inform and entertain. I tried to find a good video about banjo styles, but only turned up the usual cargo short-wearing geeds. Instead, enjoy this fascinating documentary about how to play the spoons. The first step: “Go find those spoons!”