Roman Candle The Wee Hours Revue

[V2; 2006]

Styles: alt-country, indie rock
Others: Ryan Adams, Old 97s, early-Wilco

It's hard to imagine a more affable sound than that present on Roman Candle's first official release, The Wee Hours Revue. For a band that's gone through a worse set of music industry wringers in its infancy than most will experience over an entire career, this is an especially unexpected achievement. Granted, the majority of the material on this album was intended for release four years ago and was actually the pivot point of most of the band's struggles, but nonetheless, this set of songs exhibits an exuberance and vitality that one rarely finds in the alt-country arena. Even four years behind its time, it feels new and refreshing.

This is almost a direct result of the charisma of vocalist/guitarist Skip Matheny. His voice is boyish yet powerful, and it seems to beam happiness on almost every track. It's hard to imagine him convincingly emoting a downtrodden ballad. Even a slow-burning number like "Sookie" has a certain quality of resolve that keeps away any hint of desperation. This may actually function as a point of detraction for some alt-country regulars, which is why I almost hesitate to label this crew as such. The rootsy, acoustic-driven feel of the songs is undeniable, but Roman Candle just aren't nearly as willing to whine as their most likely fanbase may want them to be.

But there are remedies to this situation. One is that even the saddest alt-country fan will eventually need an aural pick-me-up, rendering this album an essential prescription for the depressed of the No Depression set. The other remedy, and this will take some broadmindedness, is that for some stalwart hipster indie pop fans, Roman Candle may just be the alt-country band (other than Wilco, who really haven't been alt-country for a while) that they can appreciate. In fact, one connection that I kept making in my mind while listening to The Wee Hours Revue was to the ultracool French soft-rockers Phoenix. The initial spark of this comparison was Matheny's vocal similarity to Thomas Mars, but after a little more thought, I realized that Phoenix have repeatedly shown interest in some country sounds (take "Summer Days" or "Funky Squaredance" from their debut). So there's proof already that this gap can be bridged.

Regardless of who exactly shows up to buy their record or attend their shows, I feel fairly confident that there are bright days ahead for this band. Let's hope that's not just the sunny mood of the music talking...

1. Something Left to Say
2. You Don't Belong to This World
3. Another Summer
4. I Can't Even Recall
5. New York This Morning
6. Help Me If You Can
7. Baby's Got It in The Genes
8. Winterlight
9. I've Got a Reason
10. Merciful Man
11. Sookie
12. From an Airplane Window
13. Driving at Morning