It’s funny that people tend to use the same few adjectives–i.e., spooky, swampy, gothic–to describe Trailer Bride’s brand of country blues. It’s funny because, however apt, the words suggest easy pigeonholing or even cartoonish cliché. Well, bub, this ain’t no Flannery O’Connor musical paint-by-numbers.
It’s also funny because there’s not a band in North Carolina that sounds so completely like itself and no one else. Since Trailer Bride’s origins as a guitar-drums duo way back in the indie-rock ’90s, the one glorious constant has been leader Melissa Swingle. Her presence is mesmerizing, her wobbly-siren voice the aural equivalent of one of those paintings with the eyes that follow you around the room. And her spooky (oops, I said it) songs are full of richly textured characters.
“Jesco” uses a jazzy lope to tell the tale of a dancing outlaw. The swampy (well, it is) guitar of Paco Goolsby leads the chugging polka of the title track. “Bird Feet Feelings” shows Swingle’s way with a sincere ballad. And “Itchin’ For You” features not only the best hook on the record but terrific wide-eyed lyrics like “Fleas and ticks and chiggers and mites/All these things/They sure like to bite you in the middle of the night.”
The revelation on High Seas is just how far Swingle’s supporting cast has come in matching her otherworldliness. The Goolsby brothers, Paco and drummer Brad, are a picture of understated elegance. Daryl White’s propulsive stand-up bass threatens to swallow up everyone else in the band–in a good way.
High Seas isn’t as reach-out-and-grab-you terrific as its predecessor, favoring mood over Whine de Lune‘s songcraft, but it represents another important step toward the ultimate prize: originality. If Trailer Bride used to exist in its own ZIP code, it’s now well on its way to occupying its own planet.