The Kingston Springs’ eponymous first full-length tugs at my heart for a variety of reasons. For one, they’re from one of my favorite nowhere-anywhere ghostly Tennessee towns, also home to Old Mug Records, which released this album. For another, the band has invested most of their time and made their mark touring and playing dynamic sets at festivals like Lollapalooza, SXSW, Austin City Limits and Starry Nights, even though they’d only put out one EP, The Vacation Time, in 2010. And for another, bands that have as many contrasting influences as The Kingston Springs will typically have a blues song, a folk song and a soul song that are all so rigidly different that combined they make for fragmented albums. The Kingston Springs have somehow—either painstakingly or so sloppily it looks genius—pooled all their musical colors and made a multilingual record that speaks Mississippi Delta, Nashville and Anywhere, Tennessee.
The Kingston Springs is a myriad of stomp/shuffle rhythms (“Kinda Shaken,” “1991”), random bristly trumpet (“1991”), Zeppelin-like frenzy (“Sweet Susie,” “Lowest of Animals”) and beautiful melodic tangents tailing songs like “German Girl” and “Weight of the World.” The latter, whose bare version is on The Vacation Time, is walled in by dark bass via Alex Geddes while Ian Ferguson and James Guidry alternate a wiry cry that comes out of the bleakness sounding like it’s trapped under something heavy.
While “Weight of the World” is easily the album’s somber heavy-hitter, TKS mix it up with stripped-down numbers like “Lover,” whose quizzical banjo plucks along to “Lover, please don’t bother with your threats/with your tears, fears, connections and cold sweats/to me, honest, I could really care less/you’ll thank me later, this I bet.” Or “Sweet Susie,” which starts off with surfy distortion, slows down to a sexy crawl, speeds up again and plunges back down. The grizzly “Lowest of Animals” brings to mind Cage the Elephant, who are masters of the expressive, sour and disagreeable riff. “Dirty Sherry” (I guess writing hooker songs is a thing now locally, from Thank You Ma’ams to Thief) has a miserable Southern riff melting all over a grim story that begins, “Old Dirty Sherry coming up down the lane/the pretty lights eliminate her ugly face/she don’t think too much, she lives by the touch/Midwestern set aside she knows who to trust.” Most of the 11 tracks go through a tempo change, and The Kingston Springs transition well. They speed up like Iggy Pop and slow down ’60s psych style, pitting sexy against sad in a white-trashy blues format. And it works.
I suppose if The Hollies, Bob Dylan and Cage the Elephant hung out in the woods, drank beer around a fire pit and talked about Davy Crockett and The Animals before making a record, that would be The Kingston Springs. Or something like that. Broken down, The Kingston Springs sounds all over the place, but put together, it’s one of the most emotive, fun, mood-changing retro rock and backwoods blues albums of its kind—the only of its kind—that I’ll file under “damn good records out of Tennessee, 2012.”