On its first outing, Last to Show First to Go unloads a baker's dozen of kinder, gentler heartland rock & roll songs. Singer and guitarist Bredon Jones has a dreamy, languid way on the mic; he and his bandmates throw in some country signifiers from time to time, but thankfully Jones doesn't burden his voice with needless, hiccupping twang.
Short Cuts' lyrics can sometimes be a jumble of fleeting images and sharp bon mots, but every now and then Jones spits out a keeper. On the opening cut, "Smile," a simple, unadorned chorus cuts to the quick: "Smile and straighten your back / Do like they tell you from the magazine rack." Later in the record, "Running in the Rain" stands as an ideal synthesis of the band's influences. A muddy slide guitar breaks into circular arpeggios like a thumbnail sketch of The Joshua Tree's guitar palette, while a rat-a-tat snare drum and sonorous clarinet melody line give the right amount of set dressing. The next track, "No Heart," builds on that momentum with a catchy kiss-off complete with shouted group vocals and a particularly infectious chorus. This is a band that knows more than a few stick-in-your-head songwriting tricks, and it isn't afraid to use them.
At times the rhythm section could use some tightening. It seems like the band has one foot in jammy roots-rock and one foot in downtempo alt-country, and the four band members aren't always sure which leg to stand on. If Last to Show's interplay could use some wood-shedding, the album itself sounds great, thanks to the dependable engineering work of Sawhorse Studios' Jason McEntire; although Short Cuts doesn't have a wide range of dynamics, a warm, reverberant ambience covers its tracks like a well-loved blanket. The piano-based intro to "I Don't Wanna Be Known" in particular captures the twinkly elegance of an empty barroom. But with a debut album as promising and confident as Short Cuts, Last to Show First to Go won't be playing many empty rooms for much longer.
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