Ask enough local showgoers and scene-makers about the break-out prospects for local bands, and you'll know that the smart money is on Pretty Little Empire to begin making sizable waves outside of St. Louis. The quartet has released two fine LPs and plays full-hearted, sweat-drenched shows at home and in the area with admirable regularity, and hopefully the quartet won't be our secret treasure for long. Yet somehow PLE singer and guitarist Justin Johnson has found time to start another group with drummer and vocalist Sarah Ross. Jump Starts, by its two-person nature, is a simple, straight-ahead affair: Johnson sticks to rattling acoustic guitar while Ross keeps a rollicking, hip-shaking beat and offers some weightless backing vocals. On the band's first album, Ready, Set, Go..., Johnson and Ross paint in broad, somewhat monochromatic strokes but throw in enough verve and playfulness to make Jump Starts a stand-alone band rather than a mere side project.
There's nothing much hidden in a two-person band, but Ross more than contributes her fair share to these songs from her drum throne. On the closing track "It's Not Over," her bouncy, twee-funk beat and lyrical use of the splash cymbal gives a stuttering pulse to the tune, and her lightly reverbed vocals seem to swell above Johnson's exhortations. You're never going to confuse her for Clyde Stubblefield, but Ross' distinct use of the backbeat places some R&B next to Johnson's more countrified soul. The boots-are-made-for-walking twang of "Long Way Home" gives Ross a bit more rope on the mic, suggesting that the duo could do well with some Johnny & June banter. For his part, Johnson takes a more direct path with his songwriting and performance than he does with Pretty Little Empire; the emotional highs and lows are compressed to fit the more limited sonic palette, but the heartbeat still comes through loud and strong.
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