The first time that I saw The Midwestern Charm play was last summer on an impromptu road trip to Green Bay with my mom to see two of our favorite Milwaukee bands. Despite only hearing a couple songs at the tail end of The Midwestern Charm’s set, I was impressed & made it a point to look up them up a couple months later and was pleasantly surprised to find out my friend Jonathan Ferrer was producing their new album at Mystery Room Studios. Already familiar with Jon’s production level via his band Ikarus Down, I was curious to see his collaboration with Charm’s more country-tinged brand of rock.
The final product was released on April 20th, a three year long journey for the band, filled with more than the usual slew of hiccups & roadblocks. The album seems like a journey in itself, a collection about love & loss, from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, from romantic declarations to the flirty & upbeat to bitter breakup songs. When I spoke with lead vocalist & guitarist Connor S. La Mue, he said it was strange to put out an album of songs that he wrote three years ago, as the lyrics represent how he felt then not now. To me this actually makes the music more interesting, a sneak peek into someone’s mind at a very different point in their life, akin to opening a time capsule of a not so distant past that seems like ages ago to those who experienced it.
The Midwestern Charm is made up of Connor S. La Mue on vocals and guitar, lead guitarist Ryan McCrary, Ryan Gracyalny on drums and bassist Steve Sampson. The band was formed in 2009 in Oshkosh where all of the members except for Gracyalny live. Their name is fitting to the honest, down home nature of their sound, an mish-mash of alternative, roots rock and folk. Despite the recent album release, the band is looking ahead to the future and plans to follow up with an EP of newer songs later this year, obviously knowing that the way to stay successful is to stay progressive. Their next show is tomorrow night at Linnemann’s Riverwest Inn with Ikarus Down and Tim Schweiger & TMM. Here’s my take on some of my favorites off their thoroughly enjoyable debut full-length album.
Tracks two and three (Movin’ Out and Never One For Dancing respectively) really feel like one long song, the ending and opening notes blending seamlessly together. Movin’ Out is upbeat, punctuated with classic guitar riffs and a perfectly placed vocal harmony while the drums and rhythm acoustic guitar maintain a folk vibe that just skirts the border of country. The vocals are so energetic that it’s easy to miss out on some of the snarkier lyrics like “You went out of your way, to rain on my parade.” Almost three minutes in, the last guitar riff of the song sounds and without skipping a beat, the next track starts.
Smoothly transitioning into a slightly slower song with a more bitter tone, Never One For Dancing clearly paints the picture of a past love that ended badly, signified by darker lyrics “You are not sorry, just cut me down again. And there’s this hole in my chest that’s getting so large…and so fucking hard…to fill.” La Mue’s delivery of these powerful words perfectly conveys the emotion felt behind them, with his band backing him up, their chords and harmonies also portray the sadness here. The song ends on a hopeful note though, with the ending lyrics, “That’s what I needed….set me free.” I connected easily with the song (as I imagine others will) as I know all too well that when someone really hurts you, it’s almost easier to move on, as the betrayal is blatant.
When We Were Young is a slower, nostalgic ballad that reminisces on good times of the past, sprinkled with the euphonious sounds of a pedal steel (played by Matt Keon on the album) in the background, one of the most beautiful instruments to listen to, used prominently in folk music. The guitar notes are deliberately picked and delicate whistling can be heard, both accentuating the wistful vocals and stripped down tone of the song.
Track nine is Keep Me Warm and gets closer to pop-country than the rest of the album to my untrained ears. Twanging guitars and flirtatious lyrics such as, “Maybe I should go to New York. Where I can spend my time looking for a fine, little gal to spend my nights with.” emphasize the cheerful mood, keeping it fun and lighthearted. Featuring two guests, Ian Olvera on organ and Matt Keon on pedal steel again, their contribution never takes away from the band members, it only highlights them.
Better Days once more uses whistling in the background to solidify that rural, folky vibe present in the entire album, as well as several vocal harmonies that expand the scale and scope of the song. The rhythms of the song are so bluegrassy and buoyant that you can’t help but whistle along as you sway from side to side. This song showcases yet again The Midwestern Charm’s ability to mix sugary melodies and vocals with sharper, fiery lyrics, with each balancing the other out, sweet and sour. Clever words like “So when you’re done, impressing everyone…I hope you realize your goddamn mistakes. And when you preach, what you believe, don’t you ever think of me, no.” not only proves the band’s talent at songwriting but at conveying honest, true feelings.
All in all, the entire album is well put together, emotionally driven and never gets too country or too pop, always maintaining a folk-rock vein and laid back attitude that is so very indicative of the welcoming personality of the Midwest. Connor La Mue told me when he gave me the CD that if he could say the album is one thing, it’s definitely heartfelt and I can’t help but agree. Produced by the band & Jonathan Ferrer, mixed by Landon Arkens of Blast House Studios & mastered by the ever talented Justin Perkins of Mystery Room, this debut release has its own unique sound and I personally can’t wait to hear more from this talented group of musicians. Grab a copy at any of their live shows or download it on ITunes, Amazon and CDBaby, trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Check out their website or Facebook page for updates and don’t forget to swing by Linnemann’s tomorrow to hear them for yourself!