[Check out Audrey's latest foray, this time into another of her great passions: pop music! Many thanks to Audrey, & also to Joseph Davis of Ardent Studios for asking Robert Frost's Banjo to review Star & Micey!]
Up to this point my appearances on RFB have primarily focused on early women writers. Today, in keeping with the miscellany spirit of this remarkable blog, I’m writing from a different place altogether—as a huge fan and voracious consumer of pop music. When I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia—where I met John and Eberle for the first time—I DJ-ed at the UVA radio station, WTJU (get it? “TJ” for Thomas Jefferson). There, I got to spin actual vinyl records in the mid-1980s until we were forced to transition to CDs as the decade wore on (not as good for those slick segues). I used to troll through the current bin, checking out the latest treasures and oddities that appeared during that golden age when college radio prided itself on “breaking” bands like Camper Van Beethoven, R.E.M., and Nirvana, to name a few. These days I mostly play music to please myself, and I have a customized current bin. My wife, Cheryl—record collector extraordinaire, label executive, and star producer—picks out whatever new things she thinks might appeal to me and leaves them in a box for me to listen to at my leisure. I keep my ears open and love to hear whatever comes my way.
So when John invited me to write about the debut record of Memphis-based band Star & Micey, I checked out a few sample tracks and jumped at the opportunity. They made it onto the RFB radar because of the piece John wrote on the Big Star boxed set last month. Like Big Star, the group Star & Micey belongs to the legendary world of Ardent. They recorded the album at Ardent Studios, and they’re signed to Ardent Music, who will be releasing their album tomorrow.
In their bio, Star & Micey memorialize the event that gave them their quirky-sounding name—an encounter between the band’s founder, Joshua Cosby, and a homeless man named Star who had written a song about his ex-wife Micey. The true origin of this record, however, is another even more fortuitous meeting between Cosby and Ardent engineer Nick Redmond. Redmond caught Cosby’s performance at an open-mic night and liked what he heard so much that he joined forces as Star & Micey’s lead guitarist and brought the group to Ardent. Geoff Smith is the third core member of the group, playing bass and percussion on the new record.
Ardent Studios have a reputation not only for state-of-the-art recording facilities and equipment, they’re also renowned for nurturing talented musicians. From what the members of Star & Micey have to say about their experience there in interviews, they benefited greatly from that tradition. Crosby calls their recording sessions “a dream come true” and says that working there, “you feel like a kid, you feel like you can do anything.” As you can see from their pictures and in the interviews, these guys are young and brimming with optimism, and that’s what makes their gorgeously produced album such a fresh surprise. It has an old school sound and vibe with a 21st-century alt-folk-rock sensibility.
On the self-titled record, Star & Micey sound like they’re having a great time. They lead off with a swampy, southern-rock flavored track, “Salvation Army Clothes,” a reproach to someone who’s made a habit of casting off “all the good people” and is about to do it again. From there, they move into a cheerful old-time gospel praise track, incongruously titled “So Much Pain.” Although songwriter/lead vocalist Joshua Cosby sings about how much grief he has caused those he loves, the tone is relentlessly perky because it’s ultimately a tune about forgiveness and transcending the pain one has caused, concluding with the simply expressed lines:
I just feel so grateful,
I just feel so grateful,
I just feel so grateful
The tracks that follow are unified by Crosby’s smooth, confiding vocals, which are nicely complemented by harmonies from Smith and by flawless arrangements. Guest musicians include Jody Stephens, the drummer from Big Star (and Ardent studio manager), on “Nelson” and Luther Dickinson, of The North Mississippi Allstars and The Black Crowes, on “So Much Pain.”
One of my favorite songs on the album, “My Beginning,” has a sweet soul flavor and congeniality that typifies this band’s overall personality. They’ve been sporadically keeping a blog of their current tour at starandmicey.com, and if you read some of their entries, you can tell they’re having a blast out on the road. They write about playing house parties, busking in front of fraternity houses, and getting invited home by kind folks for tasty meals and places to stay.
After spending some time getting to know this band, I found myself rooting for them to do well. If these guys come to your town, go see them. And if they need a place to stay, let them sleep on your couch!