Too Much Town (2011)
“Too Much Town” is an impressive musical leap forward for South85. The disc was produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Bottle Rockets, Steve Earle, Del Lords), tracked locally at Old House Studio, and at Roscoe’s facility in Brooklyn.
In addition to big-league production, the vocal and instrumental performances reflect the experience of many live shows around the region over the past two years. Mike Bader’s guitar provides flavorful rock and roll crunch over the tight as a tick rhythm section of Eric Howard (drums) and Andy Burger (bass), confirming that South85 now plays as well in the studio as they do live.
But, it is the songs on “Too Much Town”, written or co-written by bandleader Kathy Noonan and guitarist Mike Bader, that are the most impressive aspect of the release. Noonan’s songs, and South85’s sound, are catchy and appealing enough to be almost commercial, but with an artistic depth and musical sensibility (think Kim Richey, Matracia Berg) that set them apart from typical 21st century CMT fare.
And lead singer Tracy Wyatt, as strong a vocal talent as any contemporary Nashville diva, shines throughout with an honest down home twang and occasional touch of humor that hints at the rockin’ good time she and the band are known to deliver in its live show.
El Camino (2008)
★★★½ of ★★★★ – The Charlotte Observer
At the center of the South Carolina four-piece’s debut album are guitarist Kathy Neal’s clever lyrics, which range from poignant to humorous. Although not doggedly feminist, “El Camino” is a collection of songs for women who aren’t hiding their rough edges, much like the ladies who lead South 85. Not since Loretta Lynn has a singer embraced her Southern-ness so wholeheartedly as Tracy Wyatt, whose twangy accent frequently creates two syllables from one.
“El Camino” isn’t a slick Nashville production, which makes it more authentically country than what regularly comes out of Nashville. It’s unapologetically real and tough, with songs about women discovering independence. Besides a knack for memorable melodies (“Hold Me”, “Firefly”), Neal writes the sexiest country-rock lyrics this side of Lucinda Williams (“Sex and Laundry”, “El Camino”).
Too country for Nashville? Too sexy for country? That’s not a bad thing.