The Defeated County's Bar Tabs & Baby Names: Review

Oct 30, 2015 at 7:00 am
The Defeated County - Press photo via Defeated County's Bandcamp
Press photo via Defeated County's Bandcamp
The Defeated County

The debut, self-titled EP by the Defeated County was a necessary introductory step in singer/songwriter Langen Neubacher’s development; that 2013 release was her first recording, and it documented the coalescing of the Defeated County, a sympathetic combo made up of scene vets and disparate talents. Those talents and personalities have continued to fuse together, and Bar Tabs & Baby Names is the product of a band that has learned to summon the ghosts of St. Louis’ alt-country past without approaching slavish re-creation. There’s more rhythm & blues in drummer Jeremy Shanas’ backbeat and more bounce in Simon Chervitz’s bass lines than your average Uncle Tupelo acolytes. 

But Neubacher remains the focus: Her songwriting continues to plumb personal depths, and her vocalizing techniques continue to settle into the dark, country-hued grooves of these songs. She’s still not a smooth singer in the conventional sense — she approaches some passages as if she only has a passing familiarity with the language in which she writes so knowingly, as on the halting “Might Be Mine” — but some witchy interior logic within these tracks holds the center together, tonality and tempo occasionally be damned. That’s due in part to the rest of the Defeated County — in particular Glenn Burleigh’s lead guitar and pedal-steel work is increasingly refined and tasteful.

On the dolorous set-closer “What God Doesn’t Say,” that pedal steel and guest Brien Seyle’s violin combine to create a gauzy backdrop that Neubacher luxuriates in. Earlier on the album, keyboardist and supporting vocalist Irene Allen (like nearly every player on this record, a musician in her own right) takes the lead on the gypsy-blues of “Win Your Love,” flecked with staccato guitar strums and a rumbling rhythmic core. 

Often, it’s the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate parts that work the best on Bar Tabs & Baby Names — when Neubacher uses the peppy “Gonna Be Damned” to throw shade on a cross-town charlatan, or when shimmering synth and country guitar licks butt heads on “Darkest Eyes.” The album’s sole cover, a low-slung version of MGMT’s “Kids,” might sneak by you if that indelible hook weren’t so engrained on your mid-aughts musical memory map. Here, that same hook is transmitted via lonesome guitar; it’s an oddball choice that works nicely. 

Stream three tracks from the new album below:

Want your CD to be considered for a review in this space? Send music c/o Riverfront Times, Attn: Homespun, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Suite 200, St. Louis, Missouri, 63130. Email [email protected] for more information.