Band Name: 500 Miles to Memphis
Album Name: Sunshine in a Shot Glass
Best Element: Passionate country and hooky pop-punk married in a near-perfect album
Label: Deep Elm Records
I’m a very discriminating listener of pop-punk. I’m also not a huge fan of country music. Despite these two major hurdles, 500 Miles to Memphis has won my heart with their country-punk amalgam.
There’s no easier place to start in explaining their sound than “Don’t Mislead,” which marries the galloping snare beat native to old-school punk with the plodding up-down bass lines of old-school country. It’s a nearly perfect split between punk and country throughout the song, with a dark country feel to the verses and a pop-punk chord mashing for the chorus. Ryan Malott’s alternately sneering and earnest vocals are the thread that ties the song (and all of 500 Miles to Memphis’ sound) together.
The lyrical themes of the album read like a traditional album – songs about friends, hometowns, lost love, whiskey, going nowhere, wanting to get out, even God. But instead of being depressing, these familiar country themes are charged with a punk attitude of guarded optimism – life may suck, but we’ll still wake up tomorrow to do this again.
Aside from being a fascinating study in ethnomusicology, Sunshine in a Shot Glass is awesome. The music is varied, from straight-ahead chargers (“Fireflies”, “Darlin”), to hoedowns (“All My Friends are Crazy”), to weepers (“Cheers”, “Keep it Together”), to just rock songs (“Broken, Busted, Bloody”). Each song boasts a melody that is hummable and dangerously hooky, whether it be from the vocals, the fiddle, the guitar or the bass. The band works together absolutely perfectly on these songs – never covering up the most important parts, they concede individual glory for the good of the group. With so many things going on in each song, that’s an important thing to learn.
To be honest, I’m not the type of guy who would search out a country-punk band. But Sunshine in a Shot Glass is easily one of my favorite releases of the year. I’ve been humming standout track “The Regret” for about a week solid, and I haven’t even put it in my car yet (that’s where albums become immortalized for me). I honestly can’t think of anything wrong with this album – it’s perfectly paced, superbly written and performed, honest, passionate and fun. Heck, the album art actually enhances the listening experience – and that’s rare. You need this album if you like country or punk – if you don’t like one of the two, even better. I’m convinced that you will love this album anyway.